ART & SOUL EUGENE PETERSON
The Power of a Prophetic Portrait I have been trying for 50 years now to be a pastor in a culture that doesn’t know the difference between a vocation and a job. The people who have been of most help to me in discerning this difference and embodying it in my life as a pastor have been artists. In 1955 I was a seminary student in New York City and had been assigned to do field work at West Park Presbyterian Church on West 86th Street. One of my responsibilities was to meet with a group of about 30 young adults on Friday nights. For some reason most of them were artists, primarily from the South and Midwest, who had come to New York hoping to find affirmation and opportunity as artists. Most were dancers and singers.Two were poets. There was one sculptor. All of them had menial jobs — secretaries, waiters, one drove a taxi, another sold shoes at Macy’s, whatever they had to do to pay the rent and eat — but none of them were defined by their jobs. All of them were serious artists, and being an artist was a way of life, a vocation. Willi Ossa wasn’t one of the group, but he was always there. He was the church janitor, but, like the artists in the group, “janitor” was not who he was. He himself was a serious painter. Something unspoken drew us together, and we became friends. Willi was German and had married the daughter of an officer in the occupying American army in postwar Germany. He and Mary had come to New York a couple of years before I met them. They lived in a third-floor walkup six blocks from the church. The nighttime janitorial job suited Willi because it left the days free for painting in natural light. It wasn’t long before they were invit-
ing me for supper before the evening meeting with the singles group. And then one Friday Willi said he would like to paint my portrait. In the weeks of our getting acquainted before the portrait painting began, I learned that Willi had a severely negative opinion of the church. He had lived through the war and personally experienced the capitulation of the German church to Hitler and the Nazis. His pastor had become a fervent Nazi. Willi had never heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Neimoller or the Karl Barth of the Barmen Confession. All he knew was that the church he had grown up in hated Jews and embraced Hitler as a prophet. He couldn’t understand why I would be studying to be a pastor. He warned me of the corrupting
How do I prevent myself as a pastor from thinking of my work as a job that I am expected to do to the satisfaction of my congregation? How do I stay attentive to the call of God? influence it would have. He told me that churches reduced pastors to functionaries in a bureaucracy where labels took the place of faces and rules trumped relationships. And then he began painting my portrait. But he would never let me see what he was painting. One afternoon Mary came into the room, looked at the nearly finished portrait, and exclaimed, “Krank! Krank!” I knew just enough German to hear “Sick! Sick!” A couple of weeks later the portrait was complete, and he let me see it. He had painted me in a black pulpit robe, seated with a red Bible in my lap, my hands folded over it. The face was gaunt and grim, the eyes flat and without expresPRISM 2010
sion. I asked him about Mary’s “krank” comment. He said that she was upset because he had painted me as a sick man. “I told her that I was painting you as you would look in 20 years if you insisted on being a pastor. Eugene, the church is an evil place,” he said. “No matter how good you and your intentions, the church will suck the soul out of you. I’m your friend. Please, don’t be a pastor.” His prophetic portrait entered my imagination, and quite truthfully it has never faded. Eventually I did become a pastor, but I have kept that portrait in a closet in my study for 55 years as a warning. I still pull it out occasionally and look into those vacant eyes: Willi’s prophetic portrait of the desolation he was convinced the church would visit on me if I became a pastor. I was with those artists and Willi Ossa on Friday evenings for two years. I had never before been immersed in a community of people who lived vocationally in a society in which everyone else seemed to be living a job description. Certainly they wanted to act and dance and sing on Broadway, and Willi would have loved to have had a showing of his paintings in one of the galleries on Madison Avenue. Their identity didn’t come from what anyone thought of them or paid them to do. Their identity was vocational — a calling. Nothing I have heard or read in the years since has made such a deep and lasting impression on me as those Friday nights on West 86th Street. And it has been the artists in my life — more than most others — who keep the distinction sharp between vocation and job description. Q This essay was adapted from chapter 4 of For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts (Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing House, 2010), edited by W. David O.Taylor. Used by kind permission of the publisher.
ART & SOUL J immy D orrell
Songs from the Heart Trouble finds me, but I want to live right, I want to live free; I’m strugglin’ real hard but don’t know what to do; I was 6 years old and bein’ abused. Trouble comin’ my way, comin’ my way; Will I wake up, will I be dead? Urban teens poured their pain into the microphone of Mission Waco’s Youth Center every evening as they worked to complete their first CD, Tha Start: mixtape volume 1. From rejection at home to peer pressure at school to the brutal realities of life on the streets, young men sang their stories of child abuse, drug use, empty refrigerators, and rage. Catharsis took place as they rhymed their songs and reflected on who they were through the poetry of rap. It was painful to listen to most of their words, perhaps even more painful knowing how little we understood and addressed their cries. When Gabe Dominguez walked into my office in 2008 to apply for the position of director of Mission Waco’s urban youth program, there was little on his resume to warrant an interview. In fact, warrants were actually part of the problem. Gabe, who was covered in tattoos, had dropped out of school after drugs, alcohol, and gang violence had eaten away any desire to sit in a boring classroom “with no future.” After a childhood of poverty and lack of role models, his street life in the ’hood emerged into a lucrative business of stealing and selling handguns, his popularity among his homies rising at the same rate as his wealth. Life was good — for a while. But one day the Feds busted in, and the glory faded quickly. With a felony rap for selling machine guns on the black market, Gabe’s future looked pretty well scripted.
After three years in prison, his former gang members held a party on the day of his release on parole. It would not be long, they were certain, until the old glory days on the streets would return. But God stepped in. Through the voice of his young daughter, who kept asking her daddy, “Dad, are you ever going to change?” Gabe’s heart grew soft. He attended church for the first time, and the guest speaker that day told his own story of street life and change. Broken that day by the Spirit of God, Gabe received a “second freedom,” far greater than his release from prison. Gabe was now liberated by God — and it showed. I hired Gabe at 31 years of age, choosing him over the numerous applicants with degrees and youth group experience to direct our urban youth program. I wanted a man who would reach those teens who would never darken the doors of a church. It was a risky decision, but one I have not regretted. Within the first year of his employment, what had been a more traditional “at-risk youth” program became a high-risk youth outreach. Having “been there, done that,” Gabe knew their pain and began to hang out in the ’hood, speak at the alternative school, and invest hours among the school drop-outs, juvenile offenders, and gang members.With a heart made new by God, he would tear up when he shared the stories of these young men, beaten up in life in almost every way. With Gabe’s leadership, we chose to renovate the youth building to include a quality sound studio that would allow these “thugs and bangers” to come tell their stories and search for life. And they came. With over a year of hard work from the youth and volunteer technicians, they laid down eight songs describing their search for a meaningful life. “I need God in my life.Will he accept me?” one young man pondered. “Bring it on, Jesus, I want to live life,” said another. “God found me!” another street theoPRISM 2 0 1 0
logian echoed.And their genuine search for faith and purpose beyond the ’hood was unleashed. Reaching urban youth demands more than game rooms, after-school tutoring, and field trips. It requires presence among those “strugglin’ real hard.” It demands being in the projects, taking hungry teens out to a restaurant to talk, and helping their single moms occasionally pay the rent or get the lights turned back on. It requires trips to “juvy” to visit a kid who’s been locked up, or locating a detox center for a young man already addicted to crack or booze. It means creating opportunities for volunteer service for school or legal punishment where the “bad kids” can work off their hours among a youth staff and volunteers who care. It means retooling our programs and buildings to fit the needs of today’s urban population. There is pain in it. Some fall away, some relapse, and others go back to the gang. But some don’t. Some find freedom in the God of the streets. And some are nurturing that freedom through the art of rhythm, rhyme, and melody. Long ago, a young man survived sin and trials and lived to praise God, saying, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (Ps. 40:3).Today, these young men, also survivors, sing, “All this negativity was never who I was. I choose now who I am; I want to live life.” ■ Jimmy Dorrell is co-founder and executive director of Mission Waco (MissionWaco.org) and pastor of Church Under the Bridge (ChurchUndertheBridge.org). (Mission Waco is offering free copies of the kids’ first CD to urban youth workers. Go to MissionWaco Youth.org for details.).
ART & SOUL K e v in D e Y o u ng
Common Ground, Common Sense The church and the arts have had an onagain off-again relationship for a couple millennia. At times, the church has been a patron of the arts, supporting and encouraging sculptors, painters, and musicians out of its largesse. At other times, the church has been standoffish toward the arts, seeing them as a waste of time, or worse, an expression of hedonism. Today, although many churches could hardly be called artist-friendly, interest in and advocacy for the arts are resurging. This is, in large part, commendable.The Bible speaks highly of those with gifts of artistry and craftsmanship. And let’s be honest, church culture is usually more conducive to the bourgeois than the bohemian, so it makes sense that we would have to go out of our way to welcome artists and encourage their work. As a pastor I think a renewed emphasis on the arts in our churches can be a very good thing or a very bad thing. It all depends on whether the “art is the answer” crowd and the “art is weird” crowd can find some common ground around some common sense.Toward that end, let me suggest several theses on the church and the arts. 1. We must allow art to be art. Sometimes Christians make the mistake of thinking that for art to be valuable it must share the gospel or try to point people to Jesus. Such an approach usually makes for bad evangelism and bad art. Art is valuable because it can be beautiful and full of truth. We should not expect art to communicate in the same way that discourse does. 2. A rt is valuable, but so are a lot of other things. Christians don’t always
know what to do with art. We think, “Is there really any value in a beautiful dance or a hard-to-follow poem?” But when done well, the fine arts can inspire us, comfort us, disturb us, and cause different parts of our brain to start firing. Art reminds us that “usefulness” is not the measure of worth. But art is not a god, nor is it God’s favorite college major.There is nothing intrinsically better (or worse) about being an artist than being an accountant, a computer programmer, or a cashier. 3. Art can do some things, and it can’t do some other things. Christians often struggle with art because it can be so ambiguous. It doesn’t traffic in propositions. It encourages us to think, but also to feel. It forms more than it informs. In this way, art can “teach” us about our creative and mysterious God. But being an engineer can “teach” us about our orderly and knowable God. We should not make the mistake of thinking that “the poets, the artists, the storytellers are the ones who can really teach us about God.”They can, but so can grocers and garbage collectors. 4. Our worship should strive for artistic excellence, but our worship will inevitably be “popular” and propositional. I’m always telling our people that we want “undistracting excellence” (John Piper’s phrase) on Sunday morning. Mediocrity is not a spiritual virtue. Every church will have different capabilities, but the goal is to have excellent music, excellent sound, and excellent instrumentation, just as we want excellent preaching. The worship service is not usually the time to give little Timmy a chance to play his scales on the piano. It is an opportunity for those who have labored hard at a craft to serve God with their labors. On the other hand, the goal of the worship service is not to display the talents of artists but for the congregation to be edified and to worship Jesus
Christ.This means that the music must be fairly simple for hundreds of untrained people to sing it at the same time. It also means that our worship services will deal with truth in its propositional forms. I don’t want people leaving worship wondering what the point was. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul argues for shared intelligibility in corporate worship.We aren’t looking for individualized worship experiences.We want maximum clarity, which means we won’t apologize for being heavy on words and light on other kinds of “art.” 5. Churches can learn to welcome artists, but artists should not expect the church to be an art gallery. While it’s hard for a mortgage lender to show his wares throughout the church, the visual arts are well suited for inclusion in “sacred space.” If there are talented artists in your church, consider finding the appropriate space for their work to be displayed. But artists need the humility to realize that not every piece can be used. Some art doesn’t fit the context or mood of the church. Some art gets dated, some is distracting, and some isn’t very good. 6. Artists can help us see our idols, and artists have idols of their own, too. Bankers may idolize money. Moms may idolize their kids. Academics may idolize the intellect. Pastors may idolize preaching. Artists can idolize selfexpression. What’s more, we can all be wrongfully proud that we don’t bow down to other people’s idols. Good art can help strip away pretension and pragmatism. Good artists will always be humble about their own limitations and besetting sins. And good Christians will always be eager to see truth and beauty wherever they can find it. ■ Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., and the author of several books. He blogs at TheGospelCoalition.org.
ART & SOUL G enik w a R . Williams
Exhibiting God’s Goodness In a world where top dollar is paid for artwork depicting crucifixes submerged in urine or biblical characters engaged in illicit sexual activity, it’s no wonder that exhibits inspiring reverence and awe of God aren’t considered hot commodities. Galleries that showcase biblical themes in God-honoring ways constitute a tiny minority in the art world. Galleries that do this with world-class art are even fewer. Stigmatized and marginalized by other members of the art community as well as their next-door neighbors, most don’t last more than a few years. So what would compel Susan and Derek Hooks to open a gallery featuring only art inspired by Christian faith? God called them to do it. Susan and Derek have always shared a passion for the arts. A native of Long Island, N.Y., Susan worked as a part-time artist while holding down a corporate IT job. Derek, who hails from Harlem, studied business management in college and enjoyed a successful career as an actor with one of the leading Christian theater companies in the country.When they got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, starting an art gallery seemed like a logical way to combine their talents. In late 2002, all the preparations had been made to open their new gallery in the burgeoning art district of Lancaster, Pa. Artist agreements had been signed. Studio rental fees had been paid.Promotions were in full swing. And the community was thrilled to have the new addition to the neighborhood.Then, just two months before the gallery was set to open, God stepped in and upset the Hooks’ well-laid plan, nudging them to open a gallery that expressed their faith instead. “We kept fighting it, but we really
couldn’t shake that God was calling us to open a Christian art gallery,” says Susan Hooks. “Finally, we just gave in.” But not everyone agreed that a Christian gallery was a good idea. As soon as word got out, they lost the artists they had booked for the opening. Neighbors criticized them harshly, saying a Christian art gallery just wouldn’t work there. Topping off their list of woes, the couple had no clue where to find highquality Christian artists to replace the mainstream folks they’d lost. An internet search turned up two Christian artists who agreed to do the showcase: one a Chinese artist who depicts Bible stories within a contemporary Chinese context; the other an abstract artist from New Zealand whose work focuses on how God pulls people through tragedy.The Lime Stone Gallery enjoyed a successful debut, and two years later the Hooks moved their enterprise to the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, Pa., and renamed it the White Stone Gallery.
“The beauty draws them in and God does the rest.” The gallery offers nothing along the lines of the stereotypical images of “angels holding puppies.” Consequently, according to the owners, it has helped to change the way many people view biblically inspired fine art. The art they promote depicts the glory of God, God’s love and will for humanity, and a variety of biblical themes that illuminate the nature of God. They have featured everything from abstract paintings to photographic realism; they’ve exhibited drawings and embroideries, wall-sized paintings and tabletop sculptures. White Stone has raised its profile by exhibiting the works of several internationally acclaimed artists, such as Makoto Fujimura, a New York artist who paints in a traditional Japanese style called “Nihonga,” and Spanish artist Maria PRISM 2009
Tarruella, who focuses on highly textured, mixed-media paintings. While White Stone has been gradually gaining respect in the broader art world, a ministry aspect to the business has also been emerging. Designed to appeal to both the eye and the soul, the gallery pairs each piece of artwork with a placard that provides its scriptural context. Over the years, this creative mingling of art and the Word has had a tremendous impact on the gallery’s patrons — as well as its owners, who hadn’t expected to become showroom-floor ministers. “Art witnesses to people…the beauty draws them in and God does the rest,” says Derek. He and Susan have seen people weep openly or become deeply meditative after learning the spiritual meaning behind a painting. They’ve even had people “shout” (à la Pentecostal worship style) right in the middle of an exhibit. The couple has prayed for customers, taught the Scriptures in depth, counseled depressed or suicidal patrons, and even led some walk-ins to Christ. Knowing that it is God who called them to this work is what sustains the couple, especially during hard times, and there have been hard times. But in spite of the economic downturn, business is slowly building, and the Hooks feel God blessing their labor, rewarding their obedience to his call. In Revelation 2, Christ addresses the church at Pergamum, praising them for remaining true to his name in the midst of evil. He encourages them to stay firm in their faith and promises that to all who overcome, “I will give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” Susan and Derek Hooks hold on to this fascinating promise, confident that their White Stone will remain fixed in its mission, a unique presence in the larger art world. ■ Genikwa R.Williams is a journalist and an M.Div. student at Palmer Seminary.
ART & SOUL J o K adlecek
The Pilgrimage of Reflection When I read Nicholas Carr’s July/August 2008 Atlantic cover story, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” I was so challenged by it that I gave copies to my colleagues and students. Technology, Carr said, is indeed a transformative tool for contemporary souls, but he couldn’t help wondering just how helpful it really is. Has it made our lives a little too easy, a little too thought-less or dulled or un-curious? Carr lamented his own journey from his meaningful years as a college student who read scores of literary classics — slowly and thoughtfully — to his current job as blogger and online journalist. His earlier days, he said, were like that of a scuba diver enjoying a sea of colors and ideas; now he was merely a kid on a jet ski skimming the surface of this new ocean called the internet, jumping from site to site and never slowing down long enough to reflect or consider a new idea before jumping to another place. Busted. I nodded shamefully at my own lack of reflection and contemplation, disciplines that have felt too often like prehistoric notions rather than modern-day avenues for growth. I worried with Carr that our collective curiosity was being seriously compromised. And the more I talked about the premise of the article with friends and students, the more I realized I’d been climbing on my own jet ski far too often these past few years. My skills for serious reflection had stalled. But recently I’ve revisited a writer and activist whose life and work have invited me to slow down again, to consider what it might mean to put on a new set of scuba gear for this high-tech journey: Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the
Catholic Worker movement, lived her entire adult life among the urban poor in New York City. She protested World War II and the Vietnam War, marched with civil rights leaders and migrant workers, and led an uninterrupted life of devotion and conviction. She rarely was seen without a book in her hand, and somehow — in between her hospitality work with the homeless, her speaking, and her protests across the country — she found time to write. In particular, she wrote a column for The Catholic Worker newspaper appropriately titled “On Pilgrimage.” In other words, Day was a woman of constant reflection. One can’t read her works — and they’re more accessible than ever because of the internet (CatholicWorker.org/dorothyday)— without hearing her questions. She wondered if she was doing enough, if the church could do more, if life would ever get easier, or if she took too much for granted. She used her writing as a form of confession, as a way of preaching the gospel to herself, while knowing full well she would share it with others. She was as devoted to her community as she was to her work. And her writing was an integral part of both. In fact, she often said writing and doing were the same — equal weapons for fighting injustice. Her life was not comfortable. Ever. The ongoing chaos of urban life with the poor surrounded her daily. Each meal with the homeless brought disruptions; sometimes lives were threatened. There were precious few days when she heard laughter. And yet somehow she kept at it. How in the midst of such turmoil and chaos could she remain so steady for so many years? The answer for me came last spring when I saw a new documentary film called Dorothy Day: Don’t Call Me a Saint. Written, directed, and produced by Claudia Larson — who had never made a film before encountering Day’s story and realizing it should PRISM 2009
be a documentary (DorothyDay.com) — the film includes inspiring footage of those early days in New York, of Day’s friends, even some old television interviews with Day herself. It is a reminder of the medium’s power to tell a visual story, one with passion and preaching as profound as any sermon. But one particular scene was key for me. A friend of Day’s who had lived with her at the Catholic Worker community remembered often knocking on her door for dinner. He’d find her in her tiny room, sitting on her single bed, eyes closed, book on lap, listening to opera. He described her then as “transcendent,” as if something had swept her up from the chaos of city life and brought her into this place of utter peace. That’s when it clicked for me: Dorothy Day nurtured such a rich interior life, cultivated such an internal sense of beauty and redemption, that no amount of disruption could push her off course. Beauty was her survival mode. Opera, novels, poetry, art, and of course the Scriptures all anchored her in a lifelong call that many of us still find radical and difficult — and enormously admirable. It is a life which continues even now in over 180 Catholic Worker hospitality houses and soup kitchens around the world. Day died in 1980 at age 83, just a decade before computers became ubiquitous and “Google” a verb in our daily vocabulary. I’m not sure how she would have felt about Google, but I doubt she would have thought her pilgrimage of contemplation would have inspired us to boycott it. For every soul interested in living out a life of justice, Day reminds us that slow, constant reflection is the secret. For me, that means getting off my jet ski and facing the depths. ■ Jo Kadlecek is the senior writer at Gordon College, where she teaches communication arts. Her newest book is Woman Overboard (Fresh Air/Upper Room Publishing).
ART & SOUL T egan Bro z yna
Immigrant’s Art Points to Home Yisehak F-Selassie is a California-based artist whose paintings and sculptures are informed by both his immigrant experience and his faith. Born into a royal family in Ethiopia,Yisehak (pronounced yi-tsz-hak) escaped the country at the age of 11, embarking on a journey that would eventually lead him to a life in the United States. In 1974 the military and police forces of Ethiopia mounted a coup against Yisehak’s great-grandfather, the reigning emperor Haile Selassie. In a move to consolidate and cement its power, the new communist military government began arresting and murdering anyone perceived to be a threat.Yisehak’s parents were casualties of this brutal “Red Terror,” a time of chaos and horror during which Yisehak recalls being driven to school and seeing dead bodies on the ground along the way. By 1976 a missionary couple, along with royal family members living in exile, secretly planned the elaborate escape of the ousted emperor’s 10 great-grandchildren. Airlifted into Kenya, the children continued on to Sweden, Germany, and the United Kingdom before finally seeking asylum in the United States. Yisehak says this “miraculous” escape taught him to rely on God. Yisehak’s experience of straddling two cultures has led him to redefine home as “where we are at peace,” and to him this means that our true home is with God. He thinks of this earth as our “home away from home.” The communist government sought to erase God from Ethiopian culture, which previously had been a deeply Christian nation.Yisehak is grateful that, in contrast, US citizens are free to express themselves and to worship
God, a privilege that Yisehak does not take for granted. As an artist and a man of faith,Yisehak draws inspiration from his past, particularly the example of his grandmother, Princess Wolete Israel Seyoum.The princess was an artist and devout Christian, who cared for the elderly and the widowed and often dedicated her spiritual artwork to church. Says Yisehak, “She lived the life that God would have us live.” Yisehak’s artistic influences are varied, from Renaissance paintings to the work of Marc Chagall. He began making art at an early age, continued during his frightening and confusing period of immigration, and then went on to hone his craft at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree. But it was only after graduating that Yisehak began to align his art with his faith. Faced with making art outside the confines of school,Yisehak asked God, “How can I serve you with my art?” After that he began to get a clear calling to use his gift to point others to God. Today the artist says his desire is to “inspire people to open the Bible” and to “spark the soul to look in the right
direction.” His artistic process is organic and spiritual — he starts by sketching a pleasing composition, then asking,“What is this, Lord?” He then sees something in the work that reminds him of God’s Word, and he sets about bringing out and embellishing on the truth of Scripture that he discerns there. “Many people have their own philosophy in art-making, but mine is simply waiting on God and seeking his direction,” he says. This process of creating, which mimics the larger Christian walk of faith, is where Yisehak finds peace. Some viewers move away from his art once they suspect it is faith-inspired, but the works themselves, even the titles, merely hint at their deeper meaning. Yisehak invites viewers to interpret the pieces for themselves, and it is his prayer that the same Spirit who inspired him to paint them will be revealed to those who view them. ■ Visit YisehakFineArts.com for more information. Tegan Brozyna is one of a dozen artists-inresidence at Olivet-Covenant Presbyterian Church (olivetcovenant.com) in Philadelphia.
Left: The artist poses with some of his work. Above: Refugee is a painting that reflects the artist’s own experience. PRISM 2009
ART & SOUL
Caravan of Peace
In 1898 Leo Tolstoy expressed his profound vision of art in the philosophical work What Is Art? with these words:“The task of art is enormous…Art should cause violence to be set aside. And it is only art that can accomplish this.” With this vision in mind, an unprecedented gathering of 20 respected Arab and Western artists took place this past January in Cairo, the “capital of the Middle East.” The event was titled “On a Caravan: East and West Journeying Together through the Arts,” and its central goal was to highlight how effective the arts can be in building bridges between divergent cultures. Sponsored by St. John’s, an historic Episcopal church in southern Cairo that serves the international diplomatic, business, educational, and NGO communities, the event sought to cultivate intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, as well as new friendships, with an eye to increasing understanding and respect between Muslims and Christians. Built in 1931 by the eminent architect Sir Herbert Baker, whose churches are found from Cape Town to Cairo, St. John’s has long been committed to explor-
ing and nurturing the relationship between faith and the arts. Believing that human creativity is an expression of God’s nature, the church sees the arts as a wellspring of the spiritual journey. As Kahlil Gibran, the early 20th-century Lebanese mystical writer/artist of Christian background wrote, “Art is one step from the visibly known toward the unknown.” Over the years, St. John’s has also been a unique catalyst for Christian/Muslim relations, along with Al Azhar, the intellectual and spiritual heart of Sunni Islam, headquartered in Cairo.This is illustrated in the church’s stained-glass windows that flood the interior in beautiful liquid colors, two of which feature a circular Arabesque design and were commissioned from the same stained-glass artist who worked on Al-Azhar Mosque; the others portray the stories of Egypt, which are found in both the Bible and the Qur’an. For the “On a Caravan” exhibition, each artist produced two pieces of work that reflected the theme of a shared East/ West journey. Officially opened by the US Ambassador to Egypt, the Honorable Margaret Scobey, the exhibition enjoyed over 1,300 attendees during its six-day run and drew significant attention from the international media and art world. The interaction of the artists during the pre-exhibition symposium revealed the kind of exchange and bonding that can happen at a wider level. While the majority of the participating artists were unknown to each other before the initiative, thanks to their common language of art, they quickly set about exchanging ideas and inspiring one another.The artists were clearly excited by the creative contact with a contrasting culture. One of the participants, internationally renowned Egyptian artist Mohammed Abla, said, “I am living this bridge. As a Muslim, I married a Christian, and I profoundly believe in this idea of using art to build an alliance of understanding and friendship.” In the midst of an increasing chasm of discord and misunderstanding between PRISM 2009
East and West, our world calls for a whole new kind of movement, not based on doctrine or even religious unity, but one that builds on what we hold in common, a movement that is an all-out effort to understand, help, and collaborate with the other—with goodwill, appreciation, and love. Fundamentally, we need to allow ourselves to learn from each other. The great need at this time is not interfaith dialogue, but rather interfaith friendships, which have far deeper ramifications. Friendships both reveal and are founded on what Muslims and Christians hold in common: an emphasis on harmony, compassion, and forgiveness. “We hope that through this initiative,” said Roland Prime, a participating British artist who also helped to facilitate the symposium/exhibition,“we can learn and pass on these skills to others, so that all can live without division and can respect and love the ‘other.’” (Learn more at OnCaravan.org.). ■ Paul-Gordon Chandler (PaulGordonChandler. com) is an author, Episcopal priest, and interfaith advocate currently serving as the Rector of St. John’s Church in Cairo.
Pa u l - G ordon C handler
ART & SOUL J o K adlecek
Art & Justice in an Irish Beer Garden There’s gold in the hills and coastal roads of Connemara, Ireland. Not the kind you’d wear on your finger but the kind that enriches your soul. Every glance across this place is inspiring, partly because from Galway to Leenane and each village in between, there’s not a hint of the consumer culture which litters US roads—no advertisement or billboard in sight. It is as if this land has always been God’s. Of course it has not. Its history— invisible to contemporary eyes—tells a less serene story, one of bloody tensions between Catholics and Protestants, wealthy and peasant, royalty and commoner.Today, however, all is calm amidst the fertile, bucolic beauty. Last July, in celebration of my 50th birthday, I flew my two teenage nieces and their mom over to Ireland to bicycle with me through Connemara. They had never before traveled outside the States and knew little of Ireland’s contemplative landscape or tragic history. Our trip together was to mark such discoveries.We were not disappointed. Along the coast northwest of Galway, we set out with our cycles and maps for a five-day tour of nonstop biking. Each day offered dozens of inspiring views; on day three, we were stunned by a majestic castle that presented itself along the edge of a glassy lake.We took photos and lingered as long as we could, but we needed to get to our B&B by nightfall, so we rode on to the village of Tully Cross (Cross on the Hill) and went looking for dinner, but instead were taken back to the castle by way of Paddy Coyne’s Pub and Beer Garden. It turns out that every summer
Wednesday, Paddy hosts a traditional Irish culture night for villagers as well as tourists. The night we were there, a two-person acting troupe was setting up the stage as we sought out the last available seats in the beer garden behind the pub. The “curtain” went up and the actors magically took on multiple characters, telling the story of the castle. It went like this: As the potato famine was ending in 1849, Mitchell Henry, a devout Protestant doctor, leased Kylemore Lodge around the lake we’d seen earlier that day. He wanted his wife, Margaret, to enjoy the serenity of the place, so he hired common folks —the poor who’d barely survived the famine—to construct a castle. Most wealthy men were leaving Ireland at the time, but Henry stayed. He built houses for his workers and brought unique stone and stained glass up from Galway on horseback. He built glass houses around the castle, precursors to green houses, to grow vegetables and flowers for them during the winter. But Henry did not just employ his neighbors, the actors told us; he ministered to them. He even represented them in Parliament, ensuring their dignity and citizenship with the government. His wife cooked for them and taught their children. Their partnership in ministry built a legacy that remains with locals today. To them, Mitchell and Margaret Henry are heroes, “good Christian people” who made the lives of the poor better by staying to serve when they could have left. The story then took a twist: 40 years after construction was completed, Henry lost the castle to corrupt landowners nearby. They threatened his workers, and he was forced to sell the castle to British merchants, who eventually foreclosed on the property. The castle sat empty for seven years. But in 1920 a community of Benedictine nuns, who had escaped persecution in Belgium when their abbey was destroyed in World War I, learned of Kylemore Castle. They recognized it— as Henry had—as a refuge of peace, purPRISM 2009
chased it,and made it their home.Kylemore Castle became Kylemore Abbey, an order of prayer and work where flowers are still grown and children still taught. As the curtain fell in the beer garden, I sat, as stunned by what I’d seen on stage as I had by the Irish countryside. Here, in a town called Cross on the Hill, in a land of historic conflict, I watched art and justice once again intersect, telling the personal story of God’s grace. A kind Protestant doctor had rebuilt the local economy, cared for the poor, and built a castle as a result. That castle became a refuge for Catholic nuns in a country known more for its religious tensions than its unifying symbols. And their combined story was being told in live theatre in a beer garden of a village pub. We couldn’t have asked for a better gift. The actors, Ros and Sean Coynes (Paddy’s sister-in-law and brother), were delighted by my enthusiasm.Their vision, they told us, was to keep Connemara culture and history alive through local theater. Ros’s father, an Oxford professor, had conducted numerous oral histories of the local people (archived now in Trinity College). Her mother had been commissioned to write the Kylemore play by a former abbey student who loved the story. So Ros and Sean performed the Kylemore story—and many other plays of local lore—in all kinds of venues for children, tourists, seniors, and neighbors. Their generosity of art was equal to that of the Protestant/Catholic mission of Kylemore (Castle) Abbey, a reminder that art keeps alive the cultural gold of a local region. It brings to life and puts on display the work of a perpetually creative God. And to this day, I’m not sure which was more inspiring about that trip: the Kylemore story or the glorious scenery of Ireland. Both testify that this indeed is God’s land. ■ Jo Kadlecek is on the communication arts faculty of Gordon College in Wenham, Mass.
ART & SOUL M ark R odgers
Songs That Shape Laws The great social movements are rarely the result of isolated legislative decisions made by a handful of people. Often, legislative change is the response to a cultural revolution. It took me only a few years working on Capitol Hill to recognize the truth of Damen of Athens’ observation, “Give me the songs of a nation, and it doesn’t matter who writes its laws.” Why are the songs of our nation so important? By songs I mean “cultural artifacts” such as stories, films, even computer game scenarios. They are important because they articulate what we love and hate and provide a conduit for common expression. From the cave paintings of Lascaux, France, to Jesus’ parables recorded in the Gospels, these cultural artifacts reveal the values and beliefs of a society. Today, technology delivers cultural content to our cell phones. Music consumption is at a historic high, the average US home has 2.5 people and 2.8 television sets, and a recent study found that over 90 percent of teenagers play video games. In a postmodern context, when your reality is yours and mine is mine, one of the few ways to communicate truth is through story. What we consume as a culture shapes our worldview, values, priorities—yes, even our politics. A film like Gattaca can create a “cultural conversation” about bio-engineering better than any floor speech or white paper. As Christians, we chose to ignore this fact in the latter half of the 20th century. We disengaged from sectors of influence and chose a “Christ against culture” separatist modality, especially when it came to the arts. In January 2007, I formed the
Clapham Group, named after 18thcentury British politician William Wilberforce’s action-based community of faith. Wilberforce successfully led the movement to abolish the British slave trade. His story is portrayed in the film Amazing Grace, which depicts him persevering against remarkable odds to fight the entrenched pro-slave trade interests. Wilberforce’s life was guided by “two great objects”: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners. For Wilberforce, the reformation of manners meant confronting activity that trivialized life and virtue, such as brutal sports, animal cruelty, dueling, and drunkenness. It also meant respecting the Sabbath as a day of rest in God’s honor and promoting Christian devotion among all classes. It is important to note that Wilberforce was not a lone ranger fighting the evils of his day. Rather he was part of a community of peers who worked ceaselessly to confront injustice and promote Christian virtue. This group of Christian social reformers—known as the Clapham Sect —included respected politicians, clergy, scholars, bankers, economists, writers, and artists, all pious evangelicals committed to the rule of law, free markets, and limited government. Motivated by a shared faith, they transcended liberal and conservative paradigms and denominational boundaries that were often polarizing. Instead this courageous group sought to right wrong and reform society. As part of their efforts, the Clapham Sect pioneered “cause marketing”—the use of cultural artifacts (story, poetry, plays, songs, and visual art) to raise awareness and create conversation. Ceramics pioneer, businessman, and philanthropist Josiah Wedgwood created an image on a plate of a slave kneeling, with the words “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” emblazoned around it. This image continues to be the icon of the abolition movement today. PRISM 2009
Hannah More, the most prominent female philanthropist and intellectual of the day, furthered the causes of Clapham by starting the Cheap Repository Tracts movement, putting short stories in the hands of the lower classes in order to shape their moral imagination and behavior. It is important to note that both the tracts and the Wedgwood plate were sold, not given away, in the belief that selling them gave them more value.The Clapham Sect did not find it inconsistent to “do good while doing well.” Like our namesake, our contemporary Clapham Group exists to promote the good, true, and beautiful in the public arenas of politics, policy, and pop culture. Over the past year, we have worked with organizations such asThe ONE Campaign (fighting AIDS and extreme poverty) and The Humane Society of the United States (the nation’s largest animal protection organization) to explore the role of faith within their spheres of concern. But we have also worked alongside brilliant artists in the development of cultural artifacts tackling some of our most pressing issues. These include films like Amazing Grace (slavery), Bella (adoption), Take (restorative justice), and Trade (sex trafficking). In addition, we have worked with music artists, fine artists, graphic novelists, and documentarians. Does culture inform politics? Yes— culture is upstream of politics. They are distinct but connected channels for justice to roll through like a river and righteousness to flow through like a never-failing stream! ■ Before founding the Clapham Group (ClaphamGroup.com), Mark Rodgers worked on Capitol Hill for 16 years as a leadership staffer in the US Senate as well as chief of staff to Sen. Rick Santorum. He was known on the Hill for his work on such issues as poverty alleviation and global AIDS, as well as protecting life at its most vulnerable stages. Currently he serves as a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
ART & SOUL J o K adlecek
Seeing Hunger in a Stone Blame it on the girl. Or in this case the daughter, because if she hadn’t cared about issues like sustainable agriculture and hunger in developing countries, Jim Zingarelli’s artwork might look very different. But her volunteer efforts as a college student prompted the Christian art professor to respond to the same concerns in the language he knows best: sculpture. The result is Zingarelli’s newest exhibit, “Host & Hunger,” which opened this fall at Gordon College’s Barrington Centre for the Arts, just north of Boston. The collection includes 20 carved heads—each with gaping mouth—in marble, ebony, granite, limestone, and serpentine and from countries throughout Africa, the Mediterranean, and North America. The carvings incorporate influences as diverse as Western pop art and ancient African sculpture, the smallest standing only three inches high and the largest 31 inches and weighing 250 pounds. But for Zingarelli, each represented a much bigger issue he’s become passionate about changing: world hunger. “When my oldest daughter, Gina, took some college-sponsored mission trips to learn about agricultural work in developing countries, I began to realize how unfamiliar I was with the same faces and issues she was seeing,” Zingarelli says. “It began to raise a question for me: How do I, as an artist who believes Jesus is the bread of life, also make art out of a social conscience, without it becoming propaganda on the one hand or overly sentimental on the other?” So the father followed in his daughter’s footsteps and three years ago began working with the same organization she
had: ECHO, a nonprofit interdenominational ministry based in Florida whose mission since 1981 has been to network with community leaders in over 180 countries to “seek hunger solutions for families growing food under difficult conditions.” Zingarelli spent his spring break in Florida, teamed up with a biology professor, and the two helped students create over 100 botanical drawings, photos, and paintings that were later sold at a silent auction to benefit the hungry. That fall, during his sabbatical, Zingarelli went with ECHO to Honduras to work with farmers on a sustainable tropical agricultural project, and last year he traveled as part of a Gordon team to South Africa, where he worked with black African sculptors. He and his wife
also volunteered recently at an orphanage in Morocco, where he taught art. Each trip, Zingarelli says, had a strong impact on his life and his work, helping him reconcile the connection between art and justice. “Host & Hunger” is an extension of each experience. PRISM 2008
“Jim’s tragicomic heads are compelling images of the basic human dilemma,” writes Bruce Herman, colleague, fellow artist, and longtime friend of Zingarelli. “Despite our bids for immortality, we are weak and frail creatures who need to be fed. We can’t live on ideas and art alone, but require bread, water, and other humble creaturely necessities.” Herman believes that Zingarelli’s head carvings also draw viewers into the mystery of the Eucharist and its connection with our human need for both physical and spiritual nourishment. The “host” referred to in the title points both to hospitality and to the Eucharist, the bread of heaven. At one point Zingarelli even considered carving thin, wafer-like pieces of stone for a gallery visitor to “feed” the sculptured heads— their wide-stretched mouths certainly invite such action. But the artist later decided not to, preferring instead the more symbolic absence and lack as a way of communicating both the Lord ’s Supper and the perennial problem of starvation. When Zingarelli finished his sculptures, he also decided to donate 50 percent of his Host & Hunger exhibit sales to organizations such as ECHO and Heifer International and to individual sculptors and farmers he worked with in Honduras, South Africa, and Morocco. “I hope this work will raise an awareness of the enormous need for hunger relief, that it’s a problem we can solve,” Zingarelli says. “Maybe in a small way we’ll make a difference in the lives of some of these farmers and artists I’ve met. And maybe these carvings will also help others wrestle with these same questions of art and social awareness.” ■ Jo Kadlecek is on the communication arts faculty of Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., where she is lucky enough to have her office just down the hall from creative types like Zingarelli and Herman.
ART & SOUL TEGAN BROZYNA
In Protest of the Protestant Art Ethic I was fortunate to earn my art degree at a faith-based college that was serious about both art and faith. I vividly remember my first art course in college; we were all so eager and nervous about creating and showing our work. During one of our first critiques, one of the girls in my class was brought to tears as one of the other students called her work “kitsch” —trite or clichéd. It wasn’t that her work was particularly bad—none of us made what could be called good art during that course. Rather it was that her work, which happened to portray a cross, was neither creative nor thought-provoking. Our professors wanted us to explore what it means to be an artist as well as an artist of faith. Our critiques, like the one described above, were meant to stretch us and help us grow in our skill and thought processes. During the course of my college career we were constantly asked to define and explore what art is, what its function is, and what makes good art. Although I am no longer a student, I still ask these same questions and explore what it means when we label something “Christian art.” Most mainstream and evangelical churches shy away from visual art. This is reflected in our plain worship spaces, what we sell in our bookstores, and our institutions of higher learning, few of which offer majors in studio art. It is a rare gem of a church that commissions art. When we do see what is called “Christian art,” it is often, like much of the work of my freshman art class, trite. Contemporary Christian culture tends to favor images of cozy, illuminated cottages set in the countryside; happy portrayals of Christ
playing soccer with children; and photographs of nature overlaid with biblical verses.The most popular images of Christ show a smiling, pleasant man of European descent. Essentially, the art of our popular Christian culture is good, clean, and safe. The history of Western art is saturated with religious art, Christian art in particular, but today the church has distanced itself from the art world.We have moved past the austerity of the iconoclasts who deemed any created image as idolatry, but perhaps we are still recovering from the Reformation itself.We were, after all, born of a reactionary movement that wanted very much to distance itself from the Roman Catholic Church, which had been —it is worth noting—the largest patron of art for centuries in Europe. Not only did the new Protestant church desire to be distinct from Rome in its structure and creeds, but it also lacked the wealth to commission large works of art. In many Protestant nations art was commissioned by the emerging middle class rather than the church. Artists shifted away from traditional religious themes in order to please their new patrons, and consequently Europe saw the emer“The sentimental in art, including religious art, usually begins as sincerity. So why does it end up coming across as so insincere, cheap, and shallow? One reason, I think, is laziness.We don’t invest enough time and effort to produce work that speaks and feels and looks strong —work that doesn’t rely on clichés but honestly, skillfully speaks ‘the truth with love.’ Clichés are basically these ‘lazy’ forms of art.They are readymade, copycat forms of expression that require little or no personal soul-searching or intellectual discipline…I doubt that it will ever be possible to be totally ‘original,’ but if we are content merely to copy what we’ve seen we will find ourselves locked into a never-ending cycle of clichés. Unfortunately, a great deal of art that has been produced by Christians does just that.” Betty Spackman
gence of portraiture, landscapes, and still life, many of which only fleetingly retained religious symbolism. In a way, the Reformation led to more secular art. Ironically, over the last few decades the Protestant church developed a nervous if not distrustful view of the art world it helped to create. Artists have been labeled by generations of religious folks as provocative and controversial at best, dangerous at worst. Feeling threatened by the art world, the church consequently gravitates toward safe, sterile, and saccharine images. But if art reflects the culture that produces it, then what we call “Christian art” is a reflection of our Christian culture.This does not paint a very healthy picture of the contemporary church, and is alarming to the extent that it is accurate. God, after all, calls his bride to be neither sterile nor complacent. God calls us to love and truth, not sweetness and inoffensiveness. The Bible doesn’t talk much about what we in our contemporary culture call art; the weavers, painters, masons, and smiths of Bible times were viewed as tradesmen, not artists. The closest thing that we have to a biblical view of an art of faith is found in the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, and Lamentations. These writings are an artistic record of humanity’s response to God, each other, and our shared human experience. They contain some of the most beautiful and disturbing poems ever penned: songs of praise, faith, love, loss, rage, shame, despair, and even hatred. These three books are not tame or pleasant; rather they are provocative, stormy, exultant—in short, true to the wide range of human emotion and experience. Christian art should reflect this same honesty and complexity, even at the risk of controversy. Maybe it’s time that the church, like my professors, asked a little more from its artists—and from itself. ■ Tegan Brozyna is an artist and freelance writer living in Philadelphia.
ART & SOUL M alcolm S treet
Windows to the World Sundance is a place for dreamers: Of the more than 3,000 feature-length films submitted annually, only 125 are selected for screening at the festival; of those only a handful will be “picked up” by a studio or distributer; and of that handful only one or two will ever make it to the “big screen.” An additional few will be distributed directly to the home entertainment market or to HBO, but in the end about 96 percent of filmmakers’ efforts—the results of millions of dollars and countless hours—will never be seen or heard of again. But discouraging statistics are no match for the God-planted desire for artistic expression. Filmmakers’ passion for communicating their view of the human condition is what continues to drive festivals like Sundance. Directors, screenwriters, actors, and cinematographers all long to portray how what they see in the world around them reveals humans’ deepest questions about life and death, identity and relationships, the human spirit and God. In 2005, the Windrider Forum was launched, a collaboration of partners that includes Fuller Theological Seminary in Colorado, Biola University, Angelus Student Film Awards, Priddy Brothers, and the Peter Glenville Foundation. Billed as a set of “conversations at the intersection of faith and film,” Windrider has since become the single largest ticket-purchasing block of attendees at Sundance, clearly meeting a hunger in the film community to connect the dots between celluloid, stories, and spirit. Listen to what Melissa Leo, co-star of Frozen River, the 2008 Sundance Jury Grand Prize winner for drama, said at this year’s Windrider Forum: “For 28
years I have just been doing what I do, putting one foot in front of the other. I knew somebody would someday recognize my work, appreciate my craft. Why I do what I do is to give people a window into themselves, hoping that at the end of the film they will have learned something, something about the way the world is, and the way they are in the world. I believe acting is a ‘healing art.’ My work is sacred and holy for me.” Frozen River (written and directed by Courtney Hunt) is about two women. Ray is a white single mother living in a mobile home, whose husband has just run off with the family savings. Lisa is a young Mohawk woman living on a reservation in Upstate New York, and she too has experienced loss. Deeming her unfit for motherhood, Lisa’s motherin-law had her child taken from her at birth, an offense in which the police would not intervene because they “don’t get involved in Indian affairs.” Lisa supports herself by smuggling Chinese, Pakistani, and Sudanese people in the trunk of her car from Canada—over the “frozen river” of the Mohawk reservation. Driven by financial desperation, Ray becomes Lisa’s accomplice. Although they start out as antagonists, the two mothers grow to trust each other, and at the end Ray puts her “faith” in maternal instinct by asking Lisa to care for her two children while she goes to prison for four months for smuggling in order to protect Lisa, who as an Indian would receive a far harsher sentence. So here we have a film that puts flesh on the issues of poverty, single-mother households, discrimination (both economic and ethnic), and immigration policy. In addition, there is the irony of two American women who, having been locked out of the American Dream, smuggle into America illegal immigrants who believe they can achieve the American Dream.The image that remains at the end of the film is one of grace and PRISM 2008
hope—women rising up to stand on their own two feet and, when united, able to overcome whatever hardships life brings their way. All these issues and themes were discussed at January’s Windrider Forum, where filmmakers, actors, and producers presenting films at Sundance, theology students and faculty from Fuller Seminary, and film students from Biola and Taylor Universities tried to connect popular culture and theology by practicing a “reversed hermeneutic”—that is, starting with popular culture and then “reading these signs of the times” in light of the Bible. Popular culture, in its own vocabulary, asks many of the same questions we find in the Bible:Why are you hiding— from me, from yourself, from each other, from your past, from your shame? Where is your brother? Am I my brother’s keeper? Why have you forsaken me? Who is my neighbor? The films at Sundance are sometimes viewed as edgy, in-your-face, decadent, irreligious. Some Christians draw back in disgust and judgment. But Jesus looked at the world and felt only compassion. He reached out where we reject. But the quality of our work as Christians who make and/or view films is deeply dependent on our understanding both the biblical story of sin, repentance, and redemption and the world’s story that we live in today. The art of filmmaking frames windows through which we can view both those stories, which, ultimately, are one—the story of creation, pain, restoration, and eternal love. Now that’s a story that should do well at the box office! ■ Malcolm Street helps older people “finish life well” in congregate housing settings in Texas. He was invited to the Sundance Festival by Dick Staub of TheKindlings.com, an online forum where creatives can explore ideas that matter. Learn more at Sundance.org and WindriderColorado.com.
ART & SOUL JESSICA PRUDHOMME
When invited in 2005 to do an installation at Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, now a museum, Dayton Castleman began by putting himself in the shoes of the former inmates. He was struck by the fact that the prison was designed to isolate the men—from the world and from each other—and that a Bible was the only possession they were allowed. “In Genesis 2 it says, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone,’” observes Castleman, who wondered whether the sanest of the men, rather than the most reprobate, would have tried to get out. “I began to see physical escape as a spiritual act.” And so he mapped out an escape route on a monumental scale, with over 600 feet of 2-inch steel pipe, painted red. The pipe traces a labyrinthine path through cellblocks and doorways, culminating in a 30-foot climb over the prison wall. A few years before completing his End of the Tunnel project, Castleman experienced a dramatic escape of his own, one that continues to inform his art. Shortly after moving from Chicago to Philadelphia in the summer of 2001, a
routine doctor visit revealed a tumor growing in his brain. Less than a month later he underwent surgery to have it removed. Although the tumor proved to be benign, Castleman faced months of recovery. During that time he relied heavily on both his faith in Christ and his love of art to guide him through the healing process. “My sudden introduction to the fragility of life caused me to start making sculptural work,” explains Castleman, who up to that point had worked primarily as a painter. “I can’t say exactly what caused me to recover, but I believe that making sculptures helped me deal with my illness. My first sculptures were about death and suffering and turned out to be very therapeutic.” Having made a complete recovery, Castleman went on to create Tilting at Giants in 2006, a public installation at an old Philadelphia church that consisted of a dozen 10-foot windmills suspended over the sanctuary. “I intended Tilting at Giants to be as firmly rooted in universal human experience as it is boldly wandering into mysterious worlds beyond the senses,” says Castleman. “It invites the sleeping parishioner to wake, the skeptic to hope, the believer to doubt, and all who enter to consider whether these windmills are not giants after all.” Are they the 12 disciples awaiting the winds of Pentecost? Are they a tribute to the courage and vision of Don Quixote? Whatever the viewer sees in them, Tilting at Giants is a fitting addition to Castleman’s body of spiritually insightful work. Another turning point in Castleman’s artistic journey has been his discovery of the nonprofit organization Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA.org), a group that aims to support artists, serve the church, and engage the culture. On the recommendation of a fellow artist—and somewhat reluctantly—he attended a CIVA conference back in 2001 and got much more than he had planned on. PRISM 2008
“I went in with some amalgam of naiveté, cynicism, and curiosity,” Castleman says of the event. “I’d never been to an art conference at all, let alone one populated by Christians. While being a Christian myself, I held onto some pretty common stereotypes about others. That conference began a series of very important shots to my irrationally bloated ego.” After the conference Castleman’s cynicism was dispelled, and the bar regarding his own art was raised. “CIVA became for me an important place to find people with whom I shared a common faith, and who could mentor and help me grow as an artist. It also became a place where I could participate and serve,” says Castleman, who is currently a board member of the organization, working to foster a cooperative relationship among those in the arts, the church, and the culture. Now based in Chicago, Castleman continues to seek out unique opportunities to showcase his creativity and intrigue audiences with his work. He has gained the admiration of many in his field both for overcoming his terrifying illness and for channeling the experience into passion for his faith and his art. ■ Jessica Prudhomme is a senior, majoring in communication arts, at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass.
ART & SOUL MAKOTO FUJIMURA
Art & Yearning in China During a visit to China last June with fellow delegates from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, I traveled along a dusty highway from Xi’an to Beijing. Having just visited the famed 2,200-year-old Terra Cotta Warriors, I looked out the window of our bus and mused on the mysteries of this country characterized by contrasts and a yearning for eternity. Here is a country that will spend millions to preserve Xi’an’s 8,000 Terra Cotta Warriors but at the same time create a dam to wash away an ancient village. A country that creates thousands of jobs in rebuilding Beijing’s main road to Beverly Hills-level glamour, yet simultaneously enforces a retirement age of 55 to make room for younger workers and then displaces these younger workers in order to make room for the tourists as the Olympics open. A country that invests in a vast cultural infrastructure, supporting its artists both at home and abroad, but at the same time carefully censors the news through every media. A country that prints Bibles domestically and yet persecutes and arrests Christian leaders in rural areas. China is a country that highly values harmony between people and nature and yet has one of the worst pollution problems in the world.While riding through the glitzy Beijing streets choked with smog, we asked an official if a marathon can take place in such polluted air. “Oh, they will shut the factories down for two months before the Olympics,” we were told. No other country can be so matter-of-fact about moving half a million workers out of the region to make room for tourists.
During our tour of the “Egg,” the new performance center being erected in Beijing, one of our delegates commented to me,“There’s no way we could do this in the US. We don’t have access to enough concrete!”Told that the center would be completed within the year, we marveled, “There’s no way our unions would allow us to build so fast!” Throughout our visit, the China Daily was delivered to our hotel rooms, featuring front-page articles about the exact places we were to visit and often the exact issues we were to discuss on a given day. We began to feel like players in a Chinese version of The Truman Show: The Chinese could recreate a city in several years, build the largest performance center in the world in a short time, and control how it is reported to impress a small foreign delegation. Shaking our heads, we all had to admit that, however surreal, it was still quite impressive! The vacuum left in China by the Cultural Revolution, when millions of families were exiled from the lives they knew, is now being filled by the nation’s fantastic drive to bring the world to the Olympics (’08) and then to the Expo (’10). The arts scene is also burgeoning. A group being touted as “China’s New Creative Class” is said to be heralding “the next cultural revolution.” Parallel to the US/China economic race is a creative one, and it won’t be long before we see which culture takes the lead. Spending time with China’s Minister of Culture Sun Jiazheng revealed why the country is making such headway in the cultural domain. Sun is a charming Renaissance man who freely quotes philosophers and poets and who humanized our meetings by taking off his tie and jacket and shaking each delegate’s hand. But what truly moved me was his own poetry, shared at the banquet on our last day, in Jin an Fu Palace (“Place of Eternal Happiness”) in the Forbidden City. When invited to share his “Graveside PRISM 2008
Reflections” poem, he explained that he had written it after his friend Ikuma Dan, a Japanese author/composer and president of the Sino-Japanese Cultural Exchange Association, passed away suddenly during a visit to China. The final verse: Oh, honored colleague! The blossoms have fallen, but spring still comes in all its splendor. You left with no warning; with whom can we share The fathomless depths of our loss? It would have been a courageous enough act to reveal such a personal journey in public. But his offering was even more daring because of the current tense relationship between China and Japan. Just a few days before, the Japanese papers had questioned Prime Minister Abe’s visit to a Japanese holy site where many war criminals are buried and honored, including those invading China. And the Chinese have demanded an inquiry into the forced prostitution of Chinese women by the Japanese military in the 19th century. In that setting, Sun’s poem was not just a balm to soothe historical wounds but was also a principled reconciling act based on common humanity. Jacques Maritain once wrote:“Poetry is spiritual nourishment. But it does not satiate, it only makes man more hungry, and that is its grandeur.” That hunger cannot be filled by even the greatest of banquets in the Forbidden City. In Minister Sun’s poem, and in China itself, so full of contrasts and striving, I glimpsed the longing to resolve the irreconcilable brokenness within our hearts, a yearning for that true “Place of Eternal Happiness” that is set into the hearts of every man and woman. ■ Makoto Fujimura is an artist living and working in New York City. His new book, River Grace: A Journey of Art and Faith, is available at iamny.org.
ART & SOUL TEGAN BROZYNA
In Praise of Worshipful Spaces
“...beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness...” Hans Urs von Balthasar As a Christian and an artist, when I look at the world around me I see the beautiful and intricate handiwork of the Creator. I’m struck by the care God took in designing the world we live in.The psalmist writes, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Everything, from complex ecosystems down to the smallest cell, works together in an elaborate orchestration that points to and praises God. If the Creator made the world with so much attention to balance and beauty, as co-creators and imitators of the divine we too should put thought and love into the work of our hands. Our creations, like those of the Creator, should inspire us and others to praise the Lord of heaven and earth. And our churches in particular should be spaces that reflect our worship of the sacred, drawing worshipers to a God who is worthy to be praised. One of the most worshipful places I have ever been in is the Duomo di Orvieto in Italy, a vast gothic cathedral whose marble facade is masterfully decorated with religious symbols, stories, and orna-
on the utility of the building, we all too often forget to build beauty into the church. Some church buildings look more like businesses, warehouses, or stadiums than places one would gather to worship a God of beauty.When our church structures fail to proclaim the glory of the Lord, aren’t we losing out on an opportunity to praise God? Although the craftsmanship and scale of the cathedral in Orvieto belong to another era, contemporary congregations of any size and budget can still be intentional about making beauty a part of their worship experience.The church consists of diverse cultures, settings, and aesthetic languages, and there is no one model to follow when it comes to creating sacred space. Each congregation must find an appropriate marriage of architecture and art, one that serves the specific needs of its people and their location and mission focus but also speaks to their hearts. The mystery and sacredness of the Creator are found wherever there is artful purpose—a deliberate desire to invite beauty into the worship experience—whether in a cathedral with vaulted ceilings, a simple chapel illuminated by candles, or an urban church enlivened by celebratory murals.We must seek out the artists, craftspeople, architects, gardeners, designers, and skilled workers in our communities and then invite them to praise God with their This purposeful use of architecture faith-informed gifts. Heaven and earth belong to the and art instilled in me a conviction that the spaces we create and inhabit play an Creator—let us seek to rediscover and important role in our worship of God. reclaim the sacred wherever it is lost or Harmony between function and aes- lacking. God does not just want the thetics is often sadly lacking in our culture praises of our mouths; he also wants the and, specifically, in the design of many worship of our spaces. The work of our American (especially Protestant) church- hands can act like new creations that es. In their design, many churches are praise the Creator of the world without oriented toward the human rather than words. ■ the heavenly. The physical church building functions as a place for people to Tegan Brozyna is a Sider Scholar at Palmer gather weekly, administrate, educate, and Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. She holds a celebrate. But in focusing exclusively BA in studio art from Messiah College. mentation. Pushing open the enormous metal doors, I stepped into another world, a place where the physical meets the spiritual.The echoes of my steps reverberated off the richly adorned walls and ceilings, which were lit only by candles and stained glass. It was eerie and yet beautiful, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the God who had inspired such architecture and art. Each object and every inch of space in the church reflected God’s glory. Surrounded by the holiness and mystery of the Creator, I got a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.
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ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
The Untold Story of Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg
language. He imported India’s first print- in as up close and personal a way as you can ing presses for Tamil literature and designed —the power of story and the purpose of a written form of the vernacular lan- art.Art reaches into the rich waters of hisguage from the classical literary script, tory to rescue a story we all need to hear. which is now the language used by modAnd in Ziegenbalg’s case, we’ll see ern Tamil newspapers. And he publicly it, too. Production for the documentary debated with Hindu scholars, while trans- film, Beyond Empires:The Untold Story of lating and teaching the Bible to Tamils. Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg began last year, His work helped liberate hundreds the summer that India celebrated his Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg. of people in the city of Tranquebar from life. Fitting with Ziegenbalg’s legacy, my I had trouble repeating the German generations of caste-based illiteracy and Australian filmmaker husband found a name when I first heard it shaped by my impoverishment and from exploitation Muslim producer and a Hindu camerahusband’s Australian accent. But Chris was made worse by the economic domination man in southern India who were “honso excited to tell me about Ziegenbalg’s of European powers. He formed the ored” to film the celebration of this life and legacy that I had to listen. An first indigenous Protestant church—which Christian man. The primary consultant Indian pastor in New York City had told continues to this day—where hundreds for the film—an Indian professor of him the story, and Chris, who works as multiplied his legacy forward to millions, World Christianity at Andover Newton a filmmaker, couldn’t keep it to himself. benefiting all Indians in ways that nation- Seminary in Boston—considers himself The more I heard, the more I wanted al leaders continue to acknowledge. a “recipient” of Ziegenbalg’s legacy. And to hear. Ziegenbalg’s approach to missions Hindu, Jewish, and Lutheran scholars At age 23, Ziegenbalg left his native was so radical for the time that in some and leaders have endorsed the project land as a Lutheran missionary, sent with ways he pioneered what today we’d call with both on and off camera support. questionable motives by a Danish king holistic ministry. He left a legacy of jusOf course, I’m the first to tell you to southern India. The year was 1706, tice and mercy most of us only dream that the process of independent filmand nothing about the mission could about. Even William Carey imitated making is never easy. But when a story have been easy—the ocean travel, the Ziegenbalg’s methods, and modern Hindu from history finds a filmmaker at a time political conflicts, the religious confron- scholars consider him a model of unity when the world desperately needs remindtations in a region where indigenous for his ability to live among Indians, ers of grace, unity, and courage, I can’t people were at the mercy of reigning Danes, Swedes and English. help but think the name Bartholomaus Western empires. But Ziegenbalg endured But his story’s never been told in Ziegenbalg won’t be so hard to hear in and spent the rest of his short life (he English, Chris informed me. Or on film the future. ■ died at 36) embracing his mission with for that matter. I saw a look in my hussuch integrity of faith that in 2006, three band’s eye, a look that told me he was For more information on Chris Gilbert’s film centuries after his arrival, the country of going to do something to change that. or on how you can help, go to lamppostme India spent an entire week honoring his I smiled. Because once again I saw— dia.net/beyond_empires/index.html. memory and paying tribute to his influence. They even put his face on a postage stamp. “Think of it,” Chris said. “A largely Hindu and Muslim nation celebrates a German Christian from 300 years ago, because his radical contributions in only 13 years shaped the entire country.” “I’m listening,” I said. As the first-ever Protestant missionary, Ziegenbalg quickly learned the Tamil language and won the hearts of the local people. He created the first schools in India for girls and educated both girls and boys in the indigenous Part of the celebrations marking the 300th anniversary of Ziegenbalg’s arrival in India. PRISM 2007
ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
Living with Icons BY FREDERICA M AT H E W E S - G R E E N
For many years, I didn’t like icons.When friends stopped short in admiration before an icon, I would agree,“How marvelous.” But though I searched the image, trying to find something other than a wizened, severe, and apparently angry Christ, what I was really thinking was “What’s beautiful about this?” I can see, in retrospect, that my problem wasn’t with the role of icons, just the style of them. When my daughter Megan was a toddler, we often read a cloth book titled The Little Lost Lamb. The last page showed Jesus surrounded by children and read: “Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He loves us and will always take care of us.” “This is Jesus,” I told Megan. “He loves you. We love Jesus.” And I kissed the picture. “I love Jesus, too,” she repeated, giving it a noisy smack. I knew our love wasn’t being lavished on a cloth page, but being offered through the picture to the Lord himself. The image was like a window, a seen object opening us to things unseen. Orthodox Christians often use the same analogy, calling icons “windows into heaven.” But why did the Jesus in icons have to look so scary? Some years ago my husband and I were at the cresting wave of the Episcopal renewal movement, singing happy songs about a Jesus who loved much and demanded little. Everything about renewal was bouncy and bright; in comparison icons looked like the manifestation of a sad, cramped, and sour faith. But eventually the renewal movement began to seem forced and even a bit desperate. There had to be
something deeper. One day I went to a show at a local gallery of ancient icons that had never before been seen outside Greece.Byzantine liturgical music, haunting and strange, drifted through the air. Directly in my path stood a towering icon of Jesus holding an open book, right hand raised in blessing. His face was a subtle mix of emotions; the brows were knit, but the brown eyes were wide and kind. The text on the book was in Greek—too advanced for me, but I could make out the root for “forgive.” Moving closer, I realized that the sheet of Plexiglas covering the icon was smeared.That was lipstick—who would kiss a painting in an art gallery? And who would feel moved to kiss this painting in particular? It wasn’t as harsh as some icons I’d seen, but it was still a far cry from Megan’s Good Shepherd. The path led on to another standing icon, this one two-sided. The side facing me had the familiar outlines of a Madonna and child, but this Madonna was clearly brokenhearted. Her eyes stared wide with shock and sorrow. Dark-pooled and seared with pain, they darted sideways, away from us, away from her child, resting unfocused in mid-air. Her head was ducked forward, held low in an attitude of helpless resignation. I wondered what she could see that we couldn’t.Walking around to view the other side, I got my answer. A brutal image filled the panel: Jesus dead, head sunk to one shoulder, magnificent and broken. I felt pinned to the spot. Jesus’ head filled the center of the panel, tipped to one side, capped with a halo and streaming black hair. His eyes were closed, eyebrows lifted peacefully; his mouth was relaxed, with only a touch of red as a reminder of life.All over the surface of that beautiful face ran the scars and scratches of 800 years. All over the Plexiglas were dotted the kisses of the faithful. The magnificent head was set on an inadequate body: arms thin and useless, PRISM 2007
held pinched against the torso; shoulders round as wheels; a wide-ribbed breastbone. Neckless, the head was laid awkwardly over the upper chest like a coin. This broken body was set before a wooden cross, and behind it the background was not gold but a somber dark blue. I don’t know how many minutes I stood there transfixed by the searing beauty of this silent image. I felt that there was something here I had not met before in conventional Western devotion. So much of my journey to that point had been focused on me, whether it was the giddy fun of renewal or the more recent self-improvement project of spiritual direction and centering prayer. But looking at this icon, I felt aware of nothing but him. I was flooded with love for his sacrifice. How could it be that he would do this for me, who had once spent years in anger and rebellion, ridiculing him, trying to undermine the faith of Christian friends? Yet he had come to claim and rescue me when I was lost. For me he had suffered this ultimate humiliation, abandoning all his power. I read the plaque on the cross above his ruined head: Jesus Christ, the King of Glory. From that point forward icons were transformed for me.They became vehicles of unexpected truth, questioning and challenging me. Unlike the safe images of Western devotion, even the best of which resemble a stage set arranged to prompt emotions, icons come out toward us, invade our private space. It is an unsettling effect. To live with icons and pray in their presence is to begin a daunting lifelong process of knowing ourselves even as we are fully known. The day comes when placing a kiss of veneration at the bottom edge of an icon seems the right wordless response. ■ This essay was adapted from Frederica Mathewes-Green’s Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997) and is reproduced here by permission.
ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
Crisis and Creativity BY MAKOTO FUJIMURA
I recently watched the Masterpiece Theatre production of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and realized that this powerful story, written in 1847, anticipated the modern crisis of de-humanization and opened new vistas for the Creative Age ahead of us. It is the story of an orphan who perseveres through neglect, abuse, rejection, and betrayal to eventually become a bride of inheritance. Speaking through Jane, Bronte incarnates our common call to “create the world that ought to be” and demonstrates a belief in liberation for all people. Throughout the novel Bronte contrasts Jane’s spiritual state with her creative state. As a young woman Jane Eyre comes to Thornfield as governess to the ward of the enigmatic Mr. Rochester, a rich landowner who has conspired to hide his past. Jane is without glamour but has an intellectual and creative thirst that makes Rochester see her as his equal and fall in love with her. When it emerges on the eve of their wedding that Rochester has a demented wife hidden away, Jane flees into the night, once again at the mercy of a dark, loveless world. She eventually takes refuge at the home of a clergyman, St. John Rivers. But when Rivers in due course proposes marriage to Jane, he offers her sound, rational arguments—not love. Charlotte Bronte saw the effects of Enlightenment philosophy on the church (a theology that depicted the gospel only intellectually, without heart), and Bronte could be describing the church when Jane says of Rivers, “He is good and great...but as cold as an iceberg.”
Theologically speaking, the whole world, since our expulsion from Eden, is ground zero, a chilly existence bereft of beauty and love, as was so familiar to Jane. But art can remake the world with the splendor and aroma of grace, and there’s grace at work in Jane Eyre. In the latter portion of the book, Rochester has been blinded in a fire set by his demented spouse, though he finally begins to “see” his real wretched state. Learning of what has befallen him, Jane returns to the broken Rochester. “It is time someone undertook to re-humanize you,” she says as she combs his tangled hair. Our culture, too, needs to be rehumanized. As a result of the Enlightenment’s tendency to seek specialization and minute categorization, our culture, according to author Peter Kreeft,“knows more about every thing and less about Everything.” Without the macro perspective, the grand narrative, our tangles get tighter, and as a result our creative expression has focused increasingly on the details. We find ourselves alienated from the grander story, becoming smaller and less significant by the minute while our injuries become greater. Just like Rochester at the end of Jane Eyre, our culture has been disfigured by fire— specifically, the horrid fires of Hiroshima and the Holocaust, those twin emblems of the 20th century whose ghosts still haunt our postmodern and now posthuman realities. Like Jane, today’s artists know the reality of being orphaned by society. Like Rochester, they feel that beauty is tainted and cannot be trusted. They embrace everything “anti” but rarely say what they actually stand for. And the church, seen as the main source of cultural hegemony and oppression, has failed to provide an alternative vision. The church has failed to romance artists, and as a result, they are left alone to defend themselves in culture. Like Jane Eyre, we are to face a ruined heart and a ruined condition, our ground
zeros, with courage and faith. Rochester is disfigured and in misery, but astonishingly Jane tells him, “You are no ruin, sir, no lightning-struck tree:You are green and vigorous.” She not only gives a nod to Eden here, but foreshadows the new creation to come. She sees now with the refined purity of one who has gone through the fire of betrayal and has come through intact. She recognizes fully the fallen reality but stands faithful, willing to walk into a new life. We artists, too, need to be a voice of faith in our ground zeroes. It is time to take individual steps to move beyond the postmodern fog and into the Creative Age. The Creative Age exists because of the opportunity presented by the crisis of our age. We face despair and fear in a culture unable to speak to what it means to be a human being.We need to romance the culture in this present crisis—woo her to love and not fear. To do this is to be a true artist of the Creative Age. Artists have the empathic capacity to embrace humanity even in its most destitute condition. But to do so, we have to see, like Jane, a “green and vigorous” reality. It is imagination guided by faith that taps into the New Earth and New Heaven. Jane’s own heart was disfigured, and she had to go through the fire of sanctification herself to know and recognize another cry, that of Mr. Rochester, and bring it out of that fire. In her novel Charlotte Bronte created a parable that echoes Romans 8:18: “. . . our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” We are destitute and orphaned, yet Christ sees a royal wedding and a coronation to come. ■ Painter and writer Makoto Fujimura serves on the National Council on the Arts. This essay was adapted from his address at this year’s conference for the International Arts Movement (iamny.org), a nonprofit organization (of which he is the founder and creative director) committed to engage, inspire, and create culture.
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ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
Building Community in the Dark
And that, the theater’s co-founder explains to me, is exactly the point. “Film allows us to see new options for participating in the world, so vigorous engagement with a film can help us imagine new ways of seeing what we have to offer others,” says Paul Van Ness, whose 20-year career as a filmmaker and visual artist has helped him transition It’s dark and soothingly quiet in here. I into the role of movie house visionary. settle into a cushy seat, nibble on some “Film is a powerful experience strangfreshly made popcorn, and watch an array ers have in the dark; we’re hoping to of intriguing photographs slide gently make it more powerful because here they across the big screen in front of me. A can talk to each other about that expefew newcomers sit down behind me, rience. They can build community.” whispering reverently. Local history trivBut moviegoers at CinemaSalem ia scrolls between the photos in front of don’t come together only to watch us and I relax in the silence. I learn details or discuss films; they’re also investing about the community I’ve recently in their community—literally: 25 cents moved to as well as the unique small from every single ticket sold goes into businesses that comprise it. Soon the a CinemaSalem Grant. Each month, a story I have come to watch moves seam- grant is awarded to a nonprofit orgalessly upon the screen. nization that Van Ness says is “making It is an unusual approach to what a difference in the world” locally or has become the most common form of globally. art our country enjoys: movies. But not That’s because, as one friend says of much about this theater is typical. From Van Ness’s life and work, goodness and the affordable ticket prices and artistic truth are never separated from beauty. ads to its redemptive vision—even the And so, since the theater’s inception in home-style popcorn—CinemaSalem in spring 2006, the monthly grants— Salem, Mass., on Boston’s North Shore, which average $1,000—have helped offers a new take not just on going to the an African agency send computers to movies but also on building community. West Senegal and a local youth center Here’s what I mean: Every Monday provide after-school and summer job afternoon the theater presents kid-friend- training. They’ve helped stock kosher ly screenings exclusively for little ones foods in a local Jewish Family Services and their parents or caregivers; the lights food pantry, provided funds for Children’s are brighter, the sound is lower, and Friend (the oldest nonprofit organization babies are welcome to bellow all they in the country, offering children counlike. Every other week, local college seling and mentoring), and supported a professors lead community discussions nonprofit bank in a low-income comat the theater following screenings of munity. They’ve invested in an orphanfirst-run films. Justice-oriented documen- age in the Philippines and helped a local taries are shown for free to raise com- domestic-abuse agency offer services to munity awareness. And before every families in crisis. movie, the toned-down atmosphere “Being redemptive agents in the allows often-frazzled viewers like me a world is a great challenge to Christians,” breather. It prepares us to view the roll- Van Ness says. “Our grants help us do ing images with less clutter in our heads that. There’s an economic point at and more wonder in our hearts. work here, a bigger goal to help people PRISM 2007
understand we’re all connected. We all need help.” Not bad for a movie theater that had once been known more for its trashy lobby and rude clerks than its generosity and vision. The three-screen cinema in the heart of Salem’s tourist area—associated more with witches than with Christians—had been a blight on the area until it closed in 2004. When a friend of Van Ness from the Chamber of Commerce approached him about the possibility of taking it over, Van Ness mentioned the idea to his prayer group. For weeks he and his friends took the possibility to prayer, and several months later, he and his business partner began the long process of due diligence. They bought new equipment, cleaned up the theaters, and converted the lobby. By June of 2006, the new CinemaSalem screened its first film with its distinct approach. The buzz has been building ever since. Dozens of first-run movies, even a few premieres, have lit up the screens here, producing countless conversations and acts of mercy as a result. “Film has always been what I’ve wanted to do, and the cinema opportunity is a natural extension of that, a part of a long conversation I’ve had with God,” saysVan Ness.“I’ve always believed movies offer a moral vision; they’re an art, entertainment, and language of our times, reflecting back to us the things we believe and the assumptions we have of our culture. It’s exciting to see how people have responded to CinemaSalem, to see their faces when they come out of the theater. It reminds me what I’ve always believed: God’s given us this art form, and it has a miraculous power to change the world.” ■ Last fall, columnist Jo Kadlecek joined the communication arts faculty at Gordon College just north of Boston, where she teaches creative writing and journalism.
ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
Redemptive Culture BY MAKOTO FUJIMURA
Imagine an evangelist who is not only judgmental, inflexible, lacking creativity, and anti-art/culture but also leads a dull life and has a failing marriage. How effective would such an evangelist be? “Not very effective” is the answer, but if you stop people randomly on the street and ask, “What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word Christian?” their answers will overwhelmingly resemble the picture of the evangelist imagined above.The church long ago lost its reputation for nurturing or even valuing art, and it is not a place where the marriage covenant is as honored as it should be. Is it any wonder that we are ineffective in bringing the Good News to the world? Where did we go wrong? I have been pondering these matters lately, via Genesis 2, as I prepare for the upcoming annual conference of the Inter-national Arts Movement (IAM), a nonprofit faith-based arts organization headquartered in New York City. I’ve also been reading books by some of our speakers, notably Jeremy Begbie’s Voicing Creation’s Praise:Towards a Theology of the Arts (T&T Clark, 1991) and David Hegeman’s Plowing in Hope: Toward a Biblical Theology of Culture (Canon Press, 1999). Genesis 2 passages record Adam’s creative acts in the Garden (and how God delights in them) and connect Adam’s creative act of naming the animals to his writing of an ecstatic poem upon the creation of Eve. In Plowing in Hope Hegeman writes the following: The culturative program God assigned to man was comprehensive. Man was
to assert his rule lovingly over every living creature as he came to gradually populate the whole surface of the earth. He was also called dually to “work” and “keep” the original paradise, maintaining the earth’s rich vitality and fruitfulness while at the same time unlocking the earth’s “buried” potential. Man was to use his imagination and skills to transform nature into a glorious garden-city. These two covenants—keeping and working—need to be the normative foundation for the life of the Christian, the foundation blocks upon which to create a “garden-city.” The naming of the animals by Adam is the first creative act recorded in the Bible by a human being. All art, in some sense, is naming: Poets “name” uncategorized experiences; painters “name” a vision of holistic reality; dancers “name” stillpoints of physical movements. God gave Adam total freedom to exercise his creativity of naming: “He brought [the creatures] to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name...But for Adam no suitable helper was found” (vs. 19-20). Behind this exercise of inviting Adam to name the world around him was God’s sovereign plan to reveal to the man his need for a mate. Apparently, creative acts reveal our inner lack, and God stands ready to fulfill these needs.This Creator/ creature relationship paves the way for the garden-city to come. Our art needs to reflect generative creativity, creativity that envisions realities beyond our exilic wastelands. (It is significant that the gifts of creativity and marriage both came before the Fall, our expulsion from the Garden of Eden.) Moreover, Genesis 2 points out that art and poetry are crucial to the fulfillment of a marriage covenant. My wife, who is a marriage counselor, tells me that her work is not to bring a couple PRISM 2007
back to their “first love” romance, but to help them become creatively engaged in building a new marriage relationship together, forging a new path for the future rather than living in the past. A couple needs to collaborate in painting a landscape that their lasting relationship can journey into and—if we honor Genesis 2—in writing ecstatic poems as a result. Redemptive culture, therefore, is more than reparative: Redemptive culture is generative. We need to not only engage in the culture at large, repairing the damage caused by the Fall, but also to create out of Jesus’ redemptive entrance on the stage of human history a vision of a world that ought to be— we need to create a new language of expression. Reparative work uses the existing language and methods to do “patch work” and is imitative; generative creativity is unique to each human being. Reparative work tends to be limited to utilitarian needs; generative creativity seeks deeper roots of beauty. From February 22-24, at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center near Ground Zero, IAM will be exploring these themes in its annual conference, entitled “Redemptive Culture: A World that Ought to Be.” Daniel Libeskind, the master architect chosen for the World Trade Center sites, and Karen Goodwin, producer of Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon, will also be joining us as keynote speakers. Visit IAMny.org for more information. Come to find inspiration and engagement with culture and creativity among “garden-city” builders from around the world. ■ Painter, writer, and cultural analyst, guest columnist Makoto Fujimura (makotofujimura. blogspot.com) serves on the National Council on the Arts. He is also the founder and director of the International Arts Movement (iamny. org), a nonprofit organization committed to the renewal of arts and culture.
ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
The 500-Year Question BY MAKOTO FUJIMURA
Last December I visited the Fra Angelico (1395-1455) exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NewYork City. Behind the splendor of the Christmas crèche, I joined a hushed group of art lovers. The golden aura of a diminutive portrait of the Virgin Mary greeted me, her azurite robe and the Christ child’s supple body creating a simple work that speaks of humanity. After just a few seconds of pondering the color-saturated surface, I had to close my eyes, feeling it was too much to behold all at once. As I went in search of a blank wall to stare at, feeling almost ashamed to be in the presence of such greatness, I couldn’t help but wonder which contemporary ideas, art, or vision will still be affecting humanity 500 years from today. Contemporary art does not encourage such thoughts. Apart from a few notable exceptions, contemporary artists seek to compress rather than stretch time. We are immersed in a visual culture that squeezes life into commercial slots promising instant gains. Like Warhol’s infamous “15 seconds of fame,” New York City galleries are awash in art that screams for immediate attention while leaving the viewer empty of any lasting impression. Meanwhile, artists who labor to develop their craft, artists who are committed to a longer view of their art, suffer. I can think of many mid-career artists in their 50s who deserve much attention, but galleries give solo exhibits to freshout-of-art-school artists instead. Of course, these are replaced the following year by the next round of 20-year-olds. There is nothing wrong with 20-
year-olds, by the way: Fra Angelico was one himself the year he entered the Dominican order, which is where his gift was discovered, in the long honored tradition of art, and where he was trained as an apprentice. If Fra Angelico were 20 today, he would have a hard time finding anyone to apprentice himself to, let alone joining a religious order. The contemporary church is the last place a creative genius looks for art training. That statement alone reveals the extent to which we Christians have abdicated our responsibility to steward culture. “Will we see another Renaissance in the days to come?” I asked myself at the Met that day.“Will we have another chance to steward our culture, without losing our identity and faith in the process?” By now some of you are wondering how I can even think in terms of 500 years down the road when we have the capacity to blow ourselves up a thousand times over. “Isn’t he being a bit overly optimistic?” you might ask. I recently had a conversation with a Japanese art student who was wrestling with a similar question. “How can you paint if you know you might not be around 10 years from now?” she asked me, the look on her face revealing that she was dead serious. Japanese youth continue to grow up in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even after all these years. So I guided her to the events that defined the turn of the 16th century, and together we examined the period in which Fra Angelico painted. It was not a cozy time in history. The stench of Black Death hovered over Europe, a plague that killed half (yes, half!) its population.The swords of assassination were drawn (striking the Dukes of Surrey and Exeter, and then the Earls of Kent, Huntington, and Salisbury for Richard II). The church was in turmoil (two popes resigning and one being excommunicated in the span of four years). In 1451 the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire PRISM 2006
invaded Constantinople, ending the Byzantine Age. No, it was not an age in which to find hope, not a time to be thinking about the next 500 years. In fact, many of its events seem to have remarkable echoes in our times. So how did Fra Angelico manage to paint such indelible images? To what hope did he cling in such a dark time? From what I have understood by looking at his paintings, it was to the ageless hope of Christ that he clung. After my third visit to the Fra Angelico exhibit, I allowed myself to drink deeply of that hope. It is not only the hope of an individual genius, but also of patronage, of society, and of the church. And I realized that in order to create today—in fact, in order to live today—I desperately need Fra Angelico in my imagination. I need those angelic faces to fill my heart as I ponder Aquinas in my mind. I need to consider the life of St. Francis, the saint/ artist whose image appears repeatedly throughout Fra Angelico’s oeuvre and who restored creativity and theater to theology. I wondered if, had I painted side by side with Fra Angelico, I would have heard about the dangerous teenage heretic in France named Joan of Arc (executed 1436). Perhaps I would have turned to the last panel of my own “The Last Judgment,” and painted her face (secretly) as she danced up the stairs of heaven, her cinnabar robe rich with golden calligraphy, a design fit for a queen. Can eternity be refracted through our earthly visions? Can my children’s world give birth to new generations of geniuses —as did Fra Angelico’s—whose splendors will fill the Earth, as well as Heaven? ■ Painter, writer, and cultural analyst, guest columnist Makoto Fujimura (makotofujimura. blogspot.com) serves on the National Council on the Arts. He is also the founder and director of the International Arts Movement (iamny. org), a nonprofit organization committed to the renewal of arts and culture.
ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
Celebrating The “Church” of Bruce Springsteen
much-needed attention to the ongoing crisis Katrina left there. My curiosity was all the more piqued. To say the man is a local hero because of his community involvement, artistic abilities, and ongoing generosity is a huge understatement. Bruce Springsteen is much more than that here; his grace and appeal match that of a preacher, statesman, and CEO combined. If he were a doctor or youth minister, folks on the Sometimes life only makes sense through Jersey Shore would trust their children art. A painting soothes the ache of a with him. His “congregation” of mostly personal loss. A novel lightens the grind boomers has followed him faithfully for of a commute. A movie offers a few years, turning to him for regular doses of hours of relief and perspective. A song inspiration and wisdom, songs and stories. brings a brief but healing reprieve from This concert was no different.What the world’s horrors. was different, my friend told me, was that Enter the musical “ministry” of Bruce Springsteen was performing old Gospel Springsteen. In April a friend called me songs—like “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” at the last minute with an extra ticket “Eyes on the Prize,” and “We Shall to the Boss’ charity concert in his home- Overcome”—with an acoustic band comtown of Asbury Park, N.J. I confess plete with banjo, slide guitar, upright (probably to the dismay of many reading bass, horns, fiddles, and backup singers. this): I’d never particularly cared about I felt like a visitor to a new church the rock star and would normally have who hadn’t sat in a pew for years: humshrugged off such an offer. Unlike my bled, exhilarated, and aware that somefriend—who had followed the man’s thing bigger was at work. music since the 1970s and long ago lost He played revamped Springsteen clascount of the times she’d seen him per- sics and wove in common protest songs form live—I couldn’t even name any of from a hundred years ago—“Eerie Canal,” his albums or hit singles. “My Oklahoma Home,” and “Pay Me But the invitation felt like one of My Money Down.” Then he spoke of those moments you’re supposed to seize the need to come together to address the in life, so when I got the call only an “biggest displacement of people since hour before show time, I said yes. He the Dust Bowl. New Orleans will take was performing a rehearsal concert for the attention of a lot of us for a long time the New Orleans Jazz Festival at the to help rebuild the lives of so many convention hall on the boardwalk, with families.” the Atlantic Ocean as backdrop. “It’ll be It was a sober reminder to those of a radical departure from his usual rep- us listening. We knew we had the good ertoire,” my friend said. “So you’ll prob- fortune to be there at all and the unique ably like it.” responsibility to respond to his challenge. I laughed and then listened with Yet the “sermon” was not without growing interest as she listed all the its share of hope or joy. For Springsteen local charities that would receive pro- and his band clearly had a walloping ceeds from the night: senior groups, youth good time with these old but meaningclubs, school bands, Catholic missions, ful songs. Some folks called it a cross you name it. And, of course, by men- between a Pentecostal church, a rally, and tioning New Orleans he would draw a hootenanny. (The CD that came out PRISM 2006
of their time together, We Shall Overcome: Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions, is proof. Yes, I bought it and play it proudly.) So between the fiddle, accordion and banjo solos, the call and response lyrics, and Springsteen’s amazing energy on stage, well, you’d have to be on the brink of death not to put your hands together, stamp your foot, and sing along. The “altar call” came when the reverend led his musical friends in the heavenly reminder and heartfelt rendition of each verse from “When the Saints Go Marching In.” (How could anyone not want to be in that number?) In New Orleans Jazz style, they promenaded off stage and walked back for an encore, equally moving and spiritual, from Ecclesiastes: “To everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, a time to die. A time to plant, a time to reap, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep.” When the “service” was finally over (some three hours after it began), I followed the throngs of parishioners beside the sea. Another confession: I was inspired anew. Ready for the week’s challenges. Aware of my privilege to serve, and grateful for the gifts of life, songs, and friends. I don’t know if it was the tragedy of Katrina that sent Bruce looking for new meaning in his music, or if the meaning from these powerful old songs helped him respond to the tragedy. I just know that what he did with those numbers offered a new perspective on justice and art, one which reminded me that “here in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday.” ■ Jo Kadlecek has two new books being released this fall, the novel A Mile from Sunday (NavPress) and Desperate Women of the Bible: Lessons on Passion from the Gospels (Baker). For more information, please visit her website, www.lamppostmedia.net.
ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
Why Art? BY MAKOTO FUJIMURA
As an artist, I often find myself trying to explain why art is necessary. How can I justify investing so much of my time and expenses in my own art and in advocacy for others’ artistic expressions? At speaking engagements I like to ask people what matters most to them, and I find that art is often prevalent in their answers. A man might not know a thing about the art scene in New York City, but he will talk about his child’s dream to become a dancer or actor or about a movie he just saw that affected him deeply. When asked what they enjoy doing on Sundays apart from going to church, people almost always list something to do with the arts and entertainment. Our cultural productions and our art define us, whether we like it or not. As an arts advocate, I cringed while watching the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show (a.k.a. the Janet Jackson fiasco), knowing that, for the first time, the Bowl was being broadcast in China. In many ways we have come to define ourselves by how we degrade ourselves, and we have exported that vision to the world. When I traveled with Laura Bush to represent the United States at the 2003 UNESCO General Assembly as a member of the National Council on the Arts/ National Endowment for the Arts, one of the officials there told us she feared America’s reengagement with UNESCO: “We are struggling to believe that the U.S. can bring more than McDonald’s, Coca Cola, or Hollywood movies.” We tried to convince her and other UNESCO leaders that we have a very unique arts patronage system through bodies such as the NEA. But it wasn’t until she connected with our Shakespeare,
Jazz Masters, and Martha Graham Dance Company programs that she was convinced of our commitment to a higher vision.These forms of art, I would argue, are the greatest fruits of our democracy, and we have every reason to celebrate and broadcast with pride what freedom has brought us. As Tolstoy stated, “Art is not a pleasure, a solace, or an amusement; art is a great matter. Art is an organ of human life, transmitting man’s reasonable perception into feeling.” Art is a building block of civilization, and a civilization that does not value its artistic expressions is a civilization that does not value itself. Tangible artistic expressions help us understand ourselves, teaching us to respect both the diversity of our communities and the strength of our traditions. Art, like culture, not only is ubiquitous but also implies responsibility. Just as we are responsible for our nation’s natural resources, so must we carefully steward our culture. Here are two hopeful examples of art stewardship: Rafe Esquith, who received a National Medal of Arts a few years ago for his work in inner-city Los Angeles, challenges immigrant children, many of whom do not speak English, to memorize and perform Shakespeare. In the recent ceremony announcing “American Masterpieces,” a new NEA initiative to bring masterpieces of visual art, dance, and music to American cities, regional museums, and schools, the First Lady and other guests sat in awe as two of Mr. Esquith’s students performed Henry the Fifth. Their childlike but confident orations had a beauty and a deeper resonance, something that this nation desperately needs to hear and understand today when these sounds are too often drowned out by crass commercial noise. Our children’s voices can be elevated, drawing the world’s attention to excellence and the nobility of civilization. About 20 years ago, Mayor Joseph
Riley of Charleston, S.C., woke up one day and realized that being a mayor means that you are the chief architect and designer of your city. He came to the NEA and asked for help because he knew nothing about design. “We mayors exhaust ourselves with lots of decisions —political, personnel, budget,” he said. “But 100 years from now, there will be no real evidence of how we made those decisions. In contrast, a decision about the physical design of a city will influence the city and its people for generations.” The Mayors’ Institute on City Design was established and has since helped over 625 mayors through small-group symposiums where they share dreams and explore solutions with design professionals and then go back to their towns to see how the real-life solutions can also benefit the environment and the general quality of life. This effort has been so successful that a Governor’s Institute on Community Design is currently in the works. I get to spend my days thinking and imagining, painting and writing. But I do, on occasion, go back to that question: “Why art?” It was a question I addressed to myself in a creative writing diary at college many years ago, and to which my professor commented, “I encourage you to push that question further, as many writers and artists have done in the past, to ‘Why live?’” Perhaps that’s why we need the arts. By continuing to create and imagine a better world, we live life more fully, more genuinely, more beautifully. ■ A painter, writer, and cultural thinker, guest columnist Makoto Fujimura served a six-year term on the National Council on the Arts. The youngest artist ever to have had a piece acquired by Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art, he is also the founder and director of the Inter-national Arts Movement (www.iamny. org), a nonprofit organization committed to the renewal of arts and culture.
ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
When Stories Take to Life
from a 20-something artist in Seattle who specializes in acrylic paintings and customized murals for children and youngspirited grown-ups. As a result, she’s created a wonderfully magical business called Seattle Kids Art (seattlekidsart.com). But she’s also collaborated with other A year ago I experienced the literary artists to create works for non-profit equivalent to the first day of school, com- women’s and children’s centers likeVision plete with horror and excitement, with House, which provides a safe haven for the publication of my first novel, The moms and kids leaving abusive situations. Sound of My Voice. Its story came from She’s donated paintings for auctions that years of observing (and reporting on) raise money for affordable housing, and what I saw as a disconnection between just recently she teamed with other artartists and evangelicals—neither trusting ists on a secret project for the children the other’s motives, neither eager to sit in a transitional living center that was also down and chat. The tension made me featured on the heartwarming housesad, mostly because I recognized that the makeover TV show, “Hometeam.” two groups had so much in common But why was this young artist contactand so much to learn from each other. ing me? She’d recently done a Google Both care about transformation in peo- search of her name to see how her art ple’s lives; both honor concepts of light, might be influencing others, and she’d truth, and beauty; both marvel at the discovered she was also the protagonist mysterious gift of life. in a new novel by a writer named Jo I wondered what would happen if Kadlecek. this tension were translated into fiction. Yes, Jordan Riddle was emailing me. And so I began to write. The novel tells Talk about surreal. the story of young Jordan Riddle, who And talk about an unexpected opporleaves the security of her family in tunity to engage in a dialogue with an Mississippi to pursue her dream of writ- artist who also cares about issues like ing plays for New York theater. Her safety for women and children, environdecision comes without the blessing of mental respect, and youth development. her preacher daddy, who believes she’s The more I learned about this Jordan— wasting her life, and their relationship is whose married name is Swain (www. severed. The tale moves back and forth jordanswain.com)—the more I was moved from her life in New York and his in by her paintings as well as the enthusiasm Mississippi until tragedy brings them for life that was reflected in her emails. face to face. She loves reading, teaches children who I wrote the story in hopes it might have shown promise in the arts but cancontribute to the conversation evangeli- not afford classes, and tells me she’s always cals need to have with artists and vice loved her name as well as her calling as versa. But I never expected that by cre- an artist. ating Jordan’s story, I might come face “As a kindergartner, I would wake to face with the truism that novelists up at 5 a.m. to practice my drawing and swear by: your characters take on a life painting. I would also spend hours studyof their own. ing objects to draw under my little In my case, fiction became reality. microscope. My artwork arises out of A few months ago I received an email my lifelong fascination with the visual;
color and lights have been foremost in my mind when I paint,” Jordan writes. “Recently, abstract landscapes have shown up on my canvases. I like landscapes because they are endless in their variation, yet familiar. But I’m also motivated by relationships between people and the moods they create, as well as the environments that we live in, dream of, and alter.” Jordan’s landscapes and abstract subjects are usually a combination of an idea or a dream and real experience. She paints primarily in acrylics because she says it allows her to work quickly, and that evokes energy in a painting. “Even in high-end areas of the city where most of my clients are, there are thousands of working poor and homeless individuals. I felt I was missing something in terms of helping people so I started volunteering and donating paintings,” she says. “What really affects me are the faces of kids who have never had a ‘nice’ place to go after school. Instead of cold, institutional walls, as an artist I can give them amazing things to see—jungles and seascapes—and hope that somehow in the process they can break the cycle of poverty.” I find her faith-informed life, her colorful approach to art, and her honest concern for the poor refreshing and compelling. But that’s what I expected from the Jordan Riddle I first met on the pages of a novel. How amazing that the Jordan Riddle who lives in Seattle is so like her literary namesake and, even more so, that her presence in my life has confirmed for me our participation in a much bigger story. ■ Jo Kadlecek’s (www.lamppostmedia.net) nonfiction books include Reckless Faith (Random House, 2004), Fear (Shaw, 2001), Winter Flowers & Other Signs of Redemption (Broadman & Holman, 2001), and Feast of Life (Baker, 1999).
ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
Theater Alive to the Kingdom
seat auditorium, black box experimental theater, industrial sewing space, set-manufacturing workshop, and a foyer including a lounge and a graphic arts gallery. The Barkers describe themselves as fortunate heirs of Willcox’s legacy. They arrived in 1988 from Chicago, she an BY CHRIS GILBERT actress and he a playwright, to share a single teaching position.That grew into two fullOrange City, Iowa, is a hog and corn time positions with 80 student majors center—not a place you’d expect to find to care for. theater artists devoted to issues of justice, They invited me to visit one of their truth, and beauty within American cul- classes, where students were rehearsing ture—but that’s exactly what you’ll find the production of Jeff ’s latest play. Alive there. And that’s not all—a $12-million with purpose,their trainees proved thoughtcenter to promote theater art is located ful, aware of the radical nature of this on the main street of this wind-whipped program within the world of U.S. Christian rural township. higher education. Attending state and For Jeff and Karen Barker—18-year regional drama competitions, they told me, veterans of the dramatic arts program at had increased their confidence as they Northwestern College, Orange City, which discovered that the standards set for them created this theater—truth, justice, and by their mentors had made them better excellence in drama have been their mis- equipped than their peers. sion frontier. In his plays Jeff has taken on some I met Jeff and Karen last fall while hard issues affecting the church, including making a short film at Northwestern for incest, AIDS, and homosexuality. But the Council for Christian Colleges and recently, prompted by a theologian friend, Universities. As pioneers of truth-centered he recognized modern theatrical devices theater, they had gained the Council’s in some of the texts of the Old Testament. attention, and in the pond of CCCU’s So he decided to tell the David and International Forum this March (cccu. Goliath story as a play using only the org), the Barkers’ application of faith to biblical text. art is sure to stir evangelical waters. “At first I was sure it would be just Northwestern is a mid-sized college like your typical church pantomime,” he founded by Dutch Reformed people in admitted. “But when we tried it, it really the late 19th century. But it took the worked as theater, and so we’ve begun a determination of a woman named Theora series of stories for all the local elemenEngland Willcox to awaken the school tary schools.” to its theology on cultural engagement. The play involves all 80 theater majors; She began the program four decades ago in the gym, fiercely defending her stage space from the trespass of coaches seeking storage for sports gear. Eventually college leaders trusted Willcox, the program thrived, and the town embraced student creativity. Then the Barkers arrived, and a major donor ensured the building of the DeWitt Theater Arts Center.The gymnasium was subsumed in the new building, with its 500PRISM 2006
those who don’t have acting roles work behind the scenes. It’s a pulsing, highenergy rendition of the story, with 30 actors on stage for much of the 51minute performance. Karen explained that the ethos is one of excellence and egalitarianism. She is adamant that excellent theater happens anywhere professional artists decide to apply themselves to their craft, and not just in New York, L.A., or Chicago. The Christian faith of the participants finds its expression more in the storytelling, social design, and practice of the ensemble than in reciting lines repeating evangelical certainties. No role is more important than another.The body analogy of the Apostle Paul’s first Corinthian letter is experiential for the students. The Barkers encouraged me to look up one of their protégés, now living in New York City, a young woman of poised humility, an MFA graduate of the Playwrights Wing of the Actors Studio at The New School. She is already well aware of the privations for an artist pursuing truth and beauty in a big city. But the fountain of her aspirations was primed at Northwestern, and she has equipped herself to craft plays about such tough subjects as gender issues and sexual abuse. She knows her work may very well alienate some people back home, but she also knows that if she fails to pursue a call she’s discerned since childhood, she risks alienating from the gospel those in the city who have not yet seen its light. What bolsters her faith and encourages her work is the ongoing relationship she enjoys with Jeff and Karen Barker and her alma mater in Orange City, a community she can rely on to be with her and for her as she labors at the front line of her artistic call. ■ Guest columnist Chris Gilbert, a native of Australia, is a videographer and writer (lamp postmedia.net). He is married to Art & Soul columnist Jo Kadlecek, who is happy to share her column with him this issue.
ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
Fun for the Glory of God?
and music carry within them the beauty of Seinsucht, but are only images of the thing itself, which is God’s glory. True entertainment, then, is a profound reflection of the presence of God, which we have now only in part but will have one day in full measure. BY WILLIAM EDGAR What are some good, healthy forms of entertainment for the serious Christian? Early in his career, rock critic Greil Marcus God has “richly furnished us with everysat down with a Robert Johnson blues thing to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17), but we must album, King of the Delta Blues Singers. still choose.Though there are others, four “I brought virtually no context to forms stand out for me personally. the record,” recalls Marcus.“I simply took The first is laughter. What is it that it home, put it on, and had my life gives us the uniquely human desire to changed.” He compares the experience laugh? Partly, as Peter Berger reminds us, to falling in love or picking a college it’s a way of saying that the present world course that makes you think for the isn’t altogether right-side-up.Why do we first time. I believe that Greil Marcus, in laugh when Charlie Chaplin gets caught that memorable moment of listening to in the eating machine? Because moderthe great blues singer, was entertained. nity, with its silly claims to save our labor, For many people, Christian or not, often adds to it instead. Why do we entertainment is a dirty word. And no laugh when the dandy slips on a banana wonder.We live in a culture where enter- peel? Because he is supercilious and needs tainment has become an industry aimed to be put down. Part of what makes us at distracting us from anything signifi- laugh in delight is the element of surprise. cant or hard. In his day, Blaise Pascal Sadly, we Christians are sometimes dreadcomplained that men and women were fully predictable. What if we learned to too busy being “diverted” to listen to laugh at laughable things? It might make the voice of sober questions.What would us more believable. he say today? The second is sports. Considering The word “entertain” comes from the the abuses in our culture, why not avoid French entretenir, which means to main- athletics altogether? The Apostle Paul tain or to converse. To be entertained is often used the athletic life as an analogy to maintain a conversation. C.S. Lewis for the Christian life. Like laughter, sports reminds us that the Christian life is like and other games remind us that there is a hard journey in which we occasion- more to life than horizontal, functional ally come across an inn and take some purpose. Why do we so enjoy moving rest.The inn reminds us that the journey an oddly shaped pigskin across a line, or is as important as the destination. God cornering a king on a chessboard after has given us many inns along the way scores of moves, or knocking down to our destination as so many reminders duck-pins at the end of an alley? Jesus of his grace. sat down with his friends at a wedding In his sermon “The Weight of Glory,” in Cana. It’s hard to imagine that it was C.S. Lewis speaks of a desire for a far- to preach sermons to them! off country, a hope so intimate and deep A third type of legitimate entertainwe feel awkward about it, yet we can- ment is the meal. My wife and I regularly not hide from it. Lewis calls it Seinsucht, enjoy sitting down for a good meal. It’s an inextinguishable longing. Good books about much more than the food, although
well-prepared food is certainly a gift: It is the fellowship, the conversation, the simple enjoyment of a moment away from the stresses of work that refresh and restore us. We have a friend in France who, although not particularly fond of coffee, always has a small cup of espresso after the meal. “C’est le moment du café qui compte” (It’s the coffee break that matters) is the way she explains it. Fourth, the arts. The prevalence of bad art should not blind us to all the marvelous exceptions. Many Christians would limit the use of the arts to ones that have an evangelistic function, but there is far more to the purpose of art than mere message. I have invested a good deal of my life in the art of music. I find there is nothing quite like the succession of sounds, “well-ordered to the glory of God,” as Bach used to say, for entertainment. As Nietzsche once said, “If there were no music life would be a mistake.” There is something about the way melody carries the soul, or how rhythm makes you want to dance, which is profoundly connected to God’s ways. The blues of Robert Johnson can indeed change your life. In delighting us, they transform us. Shall we settle for what the world dishes up as entertainment or, just as regrettably, toss the baby out with the bath water? Or shall we seek entertainment appropriately, restfully, because God is to be found in the laughter, the sports, the meals, the art—in the joy of fellowship and play, in the beauty of music and paintings and poetry? Let us choose to maintain a conversation with Christ, the great comforter (innkeeper?) who gives us rest as we journey toward his eternal joy. ■ Guest columnist William Edgar is professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. This column is adapted from the Sept./Oct. 2005 issue of the PCA’s byFaith magazine.
ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
Christmas All Year Long
ences, rehab centers, churches, rescue missions, festivals, and coffee houses, and recording over half a dozen albums with several radio hits, she will be the first to tell you it is not about the music. “Music can only take you so far. It’s a gift for sure and we can enjoy it. But It was one of those moments when the I want to be a part of something bigger sacred crashes into the mundane. She was than myself, something bigger than music. flipping through the dress rack at Dillard’s, So music is really a servant for those of looking for just the right gift, when she us who are beggars, needing to comheard a sound that stopped her dead at mune with our Creator,” she says. the 10/12 sizes. She listened as the song As a fellow beggar, I first heard Jami came over the speakers and took her far six years ago at a retreat in California. I beyond the tinsel of the holiday-decorat- was teaching, and she was helping us ed department store:“Long lay the world worship with her music. I confess that, in sin and error pining, till he appeared at the time, I did not understand worand the soul felt its worth. A thrill of ship beyond the poignant but tradihope, the weary world rejoices, for yon- tional hymns I was learning then. der breaks a new and glorious morn. Contemporary sounds and what I conFall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel sidered to be romanticized spirituality voices! O night divine, O night when either baffled me or bored me. Jami, Christ was born.” however, understood better than I that When the ancient carol ended, she worship is more than a song lyric or a wiped her eyes, looked up at the faces style of music—it is a lifestyle. And as around her, and wanted to shout, “Did we’ve gone back to that retreat each you hear that? Did you?” But no one year since (the director’s novel vision else seemed to have noticed, so she prefers community-building over the smiled to herself, drove home, and picked consumer-style menu of ever-changing up her guitar. speakers and singers), Jami and her music The result of that moment is Hope have continued to prepare me—and many of All the Earth, the most refreshing new others—for heaven, for that place where Christmas album I’ve heard in a very worship will be our daily bread. long time. Coming from a woman whose That is, after all, the gift of art. It is voice, if it were a color, would be red a lyric or sound or image that points us and green and full of candlelight, it is peaceful but passionate, relevant but reverent, matching the mix of traditional and original Christmas songs that comprise this record. It is an enticing blend of authentic worship for a season where worship too often seems buried beneath the wrapping paper of Christmas morning. But worship is what Jami Smith is about. Though she has been traveling the world with her guitar and band for over 10 years, playing at youth confer-
beyond our own assumptions or the glimmer of the season to the impracticalities of divine beauty. It is innocent flesh born in a stable, holy nights invading our darkness, angelic choruses— sometimes above the din of department stores—bringing us back to our Godgiven purpose: worship. “Worship creates humility, and when we sing these songs over and over, it changes us,” says Jami. “In the middle of ‘Away in the Manger’ we’re admitting our dependence, crying out for help, and coming to a place where we’re willing to face the consequences of our actions and our sin, which is a form of justice. But when we do, we get mercy, Emmanuel, God with us.” Such truth is what motivates this full-time contemporary psalmist as she travels, sings, plays guitar, writes songs, and invites others into a lifestyle of worship, to vocations where joyful service and compassionate obedience are the norm. It is why she prays for “God to alert my senses to what is cultural Christianity and what is biblical Christianity. I want this generation to grow up worshiping God with their lives, but also understanding that music, scripture, art, silence…these things are but tools that remind us that he is the prize, not these things in and of themselves.” Which is, of course, the message of Christmas, one worth celebrating all year long. ■ To order Jami Smith’s Hope of All the Earth (Spring Rain Ministries) or her other CDs, or for contact information, visit www.jamismith.com. Jo Kadlecek teaches often at retreats—and keeps learning how much she has to learn. Her books include a novel, The Sound of My Voice (WaterBrook Press), and Fear: A Spiritual Navigation (Shaw), available at www. lamp postmedia.net or local bookstores.
ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
A Different Kind of Rescue Work I first met her in an Illinois cornfield. We stood not far from a dusty road, in 95-degree heat and talked about—of all things—writing. She was comfortable there, having grown up in a small farming community in Kansas, and more comfortable still talking about creativity and stories and language, as if the subjects were second nature.Amid the cornstalks, Coleman tents, and rock bands that made up the Cornerstone Festival (sponsored by Chicago’s Jesus People USA), my first conversation with contemporary writer Vinita Hampton Wright was, well, not exactly typical of most I have with writers. I was introduced to a lot that day. Because of that conversation, I decided to pick up Wright’s Velma Still Cooks in Leeway, the first novel I’ve ever read released by a “Christian” publishing company. It is a story with such compelling characters that I actually missed them days after I’d finished reading the book. That in itself is no small thing, as I confess I’ve mostly stuck my nose up at any art that uses Christian as an adjective. But I liked Velma, the book’s protagonist, and was intrigued that I did. Which of course led me back to more chats with her creator. Wright emailed a few times from her Chicago apartment, where she seems just as at home amidst subways and urban life as she was in farm country.We shared a few phone calls in between her editing gigs at Loyola Press and our mutual writing projects. Then a few years later we ran into each other at another “Christian” gathering, one a little less dusty but just as corny: a “Christian” booksellers’ conference. Again, her talk was anything but typical of the other conversations I heard at
this strange “trade” show. There, I learned more of Wright’s story: of her work in the 1980s with a Southern Baptist mission agency that sent her to Jordan to teach English for three years; of her return to the United States to follow a new calling that meant studying communication at Wheaton College and diving into the full-time “ministry” of creative writing; of her passion to serve people, her vision to reach artists, her calling to write books, and her ability to articulate the purpose behind each. So this past spring, when I bought her new book from InterVarsity Press, The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life, I knew I was getting an altogether new—and refreshing—perspective of what it means to live out artistic callings.The timing couldn’t have been better for me. Just as I was wrestling (again!) with the tension of a creative vocation and a life of justice, I picked up her book and read: Some artist’s vision attracts a crowd of protestors, or a movie is boycotted, or a book is banned. Galileo gets dragged to the Inquisitor; Mozart dies a pauper.All of these scenarios occur because people creatively explore the world and in so doing disturb others.They convey old truths in new forms and languages. They are driven to do this. Creative work actually brings on society’s growing pains. It is anything but risk-free. I kept reading and found a thoughtful and helpful theology for those of us deeply concerned with “disturbing” the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ through our social and creative vocations.Wright’s book is a friendly but smart guide to nurturing the inherently creative life God has given each of us in order that our work and our world never be the same.
As a result, I called her to ask what she’d say to PRISM readers and she responded, of course, by writing out her thoughts before we talked:“My job as a writer is to seduce people into paying attention. If I’m good at my craft, and if I am attentive to life as it is, then I will create a story that reveals to others what is already operating in the world. Sometimes the truth my writing reveals will be how beautiful and amazing it is to be a human being. Sometimes the truth revealed is about how people suffer. As I grow in my creativity, I will naturally pay better attention to everything, and I don’t think it’s possible to pay attention to the world and not see the injustice, the oppression, and the senseless suffering.” Maybe that’s why she believes she is doing “a different kind of rescue work.” Though she admires much of the relief efforts going on across the globe and would drop her writing projects in a second to help rebuild Iraq, for now she’s in the business of “helping repair the souls of people who, in turn, can help the rest of the world. I’m called to write. Which means I’m in the underground business of helping change people’s lives through my stories.When I write a story well, the reader recognizes something that’s true for her but that she hasn’t been able to name for herself.A writer expands the reader’s vocabulary for life.” Certainly, Vinita Hampton Wright has expanded my vocabulary since our first cornfield chat. And next spring, when HarperSanFrancisco publishes her new novel, Dwelling Places, the contemporary story of a family who’s lost their farm, I’ve no doubt she will do it again. ■ Thanks in part to Vinita Hampton Wright, columnist Jo Kadlecek’s debut novel, The Sound of My Voice (WaterBrook Press/ Random House), was released in May. Ms. Wright can be reached at VinitaWright@ sbcglobal.net.
ART & SOUL JO KADLECEK
In Defense of Mystery “A sound of quick steps broke the silence of the moor. Crouching among the stones we stared intently at the silver moon-tipped bank in front of us.The steps grew louder, and through the fog, as through a curtain, there stepped the man whom we were awaiting. He looked round him in surprise as he emerged into the clear, starlit night.Then he came swiftly along the path…and as he walked he glanced continually over either shoulder like a man who is ill at ease. I heard the sharp click of a cocking pistol…” These sentences from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles charge through our imaginations with endless possibilities. Because the sun has set, taking with it clarity and courage, dozens of evil options fill our heads. Small noises erupt into human terror, then deep silence. Like the darkness, it feeds our imaginings because we know anything could happen on that starlit moor. It is the unknowing that draws us, the mystery that captivates us. Like a good Hitchcock film, it is what we do not see that both chills and excites. Publishers Weekly reports mystery as the best-selling fiction in the United States today. But literary mysteries don’t stay that way—the suspects and their methods and motives surface by the last page. For while we love a good conundrum, we also find deep satisfaction in its solution.That’s why Hollywood execs and television producers bank on the next detective show or courtroom drama that solves the puzzles of a character’s demise in less than a few hours.
Though ours is a culture that loves answers, explanations, and formulas, we love even more the process of pursuing them.True, we live in an age of quick information, but there is something fiercely human about the adventure and wonder of discovery, no matter how dark the setting. It’s enormously fulfilling to put the pieces of a dilemma together, connect the dots, unearth a secret. Whether it’s waiting on a moonlit riverbank,digging through historic documents, or simply retracing yesterday’s steps to find our car keys, we are suckers for the process of figuring it out.We’re wired to know, and it is exactly because we do not know that we keep plodding ahead. Of course, evangelicals have never been particularly fond of—or honest about—mystery. Instead, we like to pretend we already know most of what there is to know about Christ and his kingdom. We devise pithy answers to theological quandaries and place the Christian life into nice, neat boxes. We explain, categorize, and reduce every tenet of our faith into something we can tuck away in a file or notebook.Want to know how to find salvation? Here are four easy steps.Wondering how to build a healthy marriage or an interracial church, create that successful youth group or ministry to the poor? Just follow these 10 points, and presto! The kingdom of God is at your fingertips—no more ambiguity or tension or process. If only life were that uncomplicated. Thankfully, however, there have been skeptics amongst us who actually—and artistically—embraced mystery. From Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton to Rex Stout and P.D. James, their stories help us enjoy the journey of discovery—which is not such a bad thing in a world rife with despair. In what is sometimes a wild pursuit of truth,
we watch their humanly heroes encounter danger, uncover clues, and return things to the way they were meant to be.As one Dartmouth scholar put it, “The fundamental premise of all mysteries is a society that is ordered and real but becomes disordered as a result of a crime imposed on that society. In the normal case, a hero arrives—an officer of the law, a private detective, or an amateur sleuth—and via logical deduction, hard work, or luck, solves the crime, identifies the perpetrator, and order is restored.” Sayer’s Lord Wimsey puts it another way:“In detective stories, virtue is always triumphant. They’re the purest literature we have.” Maybe that is the real reason we’re drawn to mystery:We crave virtue and we know we cannot achieve it on our own. So we live in hope that good will conquer evil, justice will prevail, and God finally will provide a way out. Of course, God already has, for at the heart of history lies a mystery some people still cannot explain. It goes something like this: A sound of quick steps broke the silence of the day. Not long before, a storm had split the sky and darkened the sun because a man had been savagely murdered, thrown across a tree, and left to die. His friends went swiftly down the path looking through the fog for his corpse. But soon enough they discovered something that defied any earthly imagination: He was not there! It is this living mystery that plunges us into wonder, keeps us moving, and leaves every other whodunit wanting. ■ Jo Kadlecek writes frequently on urban life and the arts from her home on the New Jersey shore. Her debut novel, The Sound of My Voice, was released in May from Waterbrook Press, a division of Random House. For more information on Kadlecek’s work, visit www.lamppostmedia.net.
ART & SOUL
Go Greenbelt BY CHARLES STROHMER
I plopped down on a grassy knoll in the West of England among thousands sitting quietly, rain threatening, as the Communion service got underway—a prophetic drama calling for a jubilee from the chains that bind us to the structural injustices of our societies. The Archbishop of Canterbury was leading a prayer. Later, I fought back tears while absorbing a poignant exhibit entitled “The F Word”—a gallery of moving photographs and short stories from former adversaries in the Middle East conflict who, through the miracle of grace, had been reconciled and were offering the world images of forgiveness born out of scenes of violence. I presented a seminar called “Is Christian Publishing Still Christian?” and answered questions, then perused the 80-page festival guide to locate where Ched Meyers would be speaking on “Gospel Discernment in the Apocalypse of War.” I hung out with some English friends at Pru’s Cafe next to the vast book tent and afterward meandered down the narrow lanes of the crowded festival site to take in a sunset concert of classical music, a departure from the amped-up Christian rock pouring forth from noon to nearly dawn on several stages. These few sights and sounds can’t begin to describe the Greenbelt Arts Festival, a four-day creative experience that hits you with such verve, imagination, and potential that no one can possibly take it all in. This is quite a change for me—bragging up art done by Christians. As
someone who works in a branch of the arts called writing, I ought to be a little more charitable (after all, even some of my own published work now embarrasses me), but I’ll confess that I have lingering weariness toward much Christian art today. I’m upset when I see art that breaks the Creator’s laws for aesthetic expression, art that preaches or seeks to teach and inform rather than to suggest, to invite, even to offer sabbaths. Or when art serves Mammon, a sin hotly rebuked by Amos, who rejects outright the art of a culture that does not care about the poor and about injustice (Amos 5:23-6:7). And I feel dejected when I want to tell a Christian friend about an awakening I’ve had through a work of art— perhaps a deepened understanding of my sin or a revealing insight about life —but I don’t say anything because I know that person will find the art too controversial, taboo, or “pagan.” So I don’t mention the stunning performance of Henry Miller’s The Crucible that left me speechless. I don’t let on that NYPD Blue was my favorite TV drama, especially during its first years when God, moral dilemmas, addiction recovery, and even Christian ministers were treated with more intelligence than anything I’d ever seen on TV. I can’t explain that Rodin’s little-known masterwork, The Myth of Danaide, broke my heart as an experience of the never-ending despair of the soul without Christ. Greenbelt solves all this for me. From its humble beginnings on a pig farm in Suffolk, England, in 1974—the dream of bricklayers, used car dealers, farmers, actors, musicians, and theologians—Greenbelt has grown into a living, breathing organism of passionate Christian conviction and creativity. Within a decade, 20,000 people were camping out in the scenic rolling hills at its new home in the Midlands for the
four-day event. Today, the festival has become part music/art celebration, part youth festival, part social campaign and political jubilee, part development activism, part worshiping weekend, and all theater. Its substance and charisma includes an impressive range of seminars, speakers from around the globe, and a huge, rich, and imaginative children’s program that is a culture in itself. But Greenbelt’s road less traveled has at times been misunderstood and resisted by traditional Christianity. “That’s been the edge against which we’ve struggled philosophically and creatively to sharpen our ideas and get where we are,” said Steve Shaw, a festival cofounder. “People have even questioned if Greenbelt was Christian—like when we began inviting guest speakers who weren’t really ‘kosher’—but we did that to give Christians a chance to be up against their critics, and so that both sides could sort out what they really believed. But the struggles have created a real sense of freedom. People feel comfortable being themselves around others who won’t judge them, and they’re drawn by the challenge of the speakers and the festival’s integration of the gospel into all of life.” For me, Greenbelt has become a safe environment for stimulating conversation, thoughtful meditation, and playful enjoyment. It draws from many compass points to stay freshly redemptive, continually reshaping itself to follow what Christ is already doing in our world. The next festival is August 26-29, 2005. Check out the upcoming action at www.greenbelt. org.uk. ■ Guest columnist Charles Strohmer is the author of seven books—and a fan of British Christianity. He is the co-author, with John Peck,of Uncommon Sense:God’s Wisdom for Our Complex and Changing World (SPCK, 2001).
ART & SOUL
Fighting Hunger with Food… and Stories BY KAMI RICE
At Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, a hot meal is not the only sustenance offered to guests. The largest soup kitchen in New York City, Holy Apostles also addresses a deeper hunger in their guests through a weekly writing workshop. The Rev. Liz Maxwell, associate rector of Church of the Holy Apostles and the soup kitchen’s program director, says that people often ask whether a writing workshop is really an effective way to care for the poor. Shouldn’t the focus be on meeting their more basic needs? But, as Maxwell explains, the need for self-expression and meaning is every bit as powerful as physical hunger.When the participants write,“they connect with a spark inside them, and they experience the creative energy of God,” she says. The soup kitchen, which began in 1982, serves over 1,100 guests per day in the nave of Church of the Holy Apostles, a building that is itself a work of art and offers sanctuary in the busy city. In 1994 nonfiction author Ian Frazier received a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, a program that in the 1990s provided financial support to accomplished writers, allowing them to create new works and to partner with communitybased organizations. Frazier approached the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen about starting a writing workshop for their clients.The program is still going strong. On Wednesdays, instructors sit at the exit of the church and invite guests to join the workshop after the meal. Weekly attendance is usually about 20 people, who meet in the narthex around a table
spread with paper, pens, and cups of coffee.The instructors provide a prompt to get things rolling—such as “It Was the Best Day” or “In My Other Life”— and everyone, including the instructors, writes about the topic for the next 45 minutes. Afterwards, participants read what they’ve written.At the end of a 10week series, the pieces are collected and printed up and a public reading is held. “Part of what seems to work about it is that people sit right there and write and have a community of people,” Maxwell explains. Some participants only come to the workshop once. Others continue to come long after they no longer require the free meal. While some instruction is offered, the workshops are about much more than just improving writing skills.They are also about providing an opportunity to tell one’s story, which is an important part of spiritual restoration.“When you begin to tell the truth about your life within a supportive community,” says Maxwell,“that truth makes you stronger, and you begin to have energy for other parts of your life.” Maxwell talks about Carol, a woman who has been part of the workshop since its second year. She came to Holy Apostles having beaten a drinking problem, but her housing situation was precarious and she was struggling with serious depression. She had always wanted to write, and the workshop gave her something to look forward to. As she received help in the workshop she was able to accept help with other pieces of her life. She has now published some of her writing and recently told Maxwell,“I’m not 100 percent where I need to be, but I’m pretty close.” The workshops also helped Donald, who reconnected with his family when he invited them to one of the readings. “The writing for him has been a way of gathering up his life and beginning to make something new of it,” says Maxwell. He is no longer homeless and is actively involved in a church now. PRISM 2005
Last year an unexpected opportunity led to the publication of a collection of essays, poems, and stories from the workshop’s past 10 years. Released in October, Food for the Soul: Selections from the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen Writers Workshop was edited by Maxwell and writer Susan Shapiro and published by Seabury Press. Ten percent of the book’s proceeds go back to the soup kitchen. The contributors’ backgrounds are widely varied, Maxwell notes: Some have held steady jobs while others deal with chronic unemployment and homelessness; some are educated, others not; some struggle with mental health issues, substance abuse, and dysfunctional families, and all wrestle with what it means to be human in an often painful world. Maxwell says the book is a balance between the particular and the universal: stories of poverty, love, despair, hope, desire, faith, and anger. Many of the soup kitchen’s guests spend their lives outside of “normal” human interactions.They become accustomed to other people averting their eyes.The workshop community offers them a place to say things they’ve never said before, and this then gives them confidence to share with others outside the workshop.“It’s like developing a muscle,” explains Maxwell—“the muscle of knowing yourself to be someone that people want to listen to. It’s a way of recognizing your own dignity and having your dignity recognized by others.” So what does art have to do with fighting hunger? “When we create it is our link to the mystery of God. I think that the impulse to make a better world comes out of the same place as the impulse to make art.” ■ (Go to www.holyapostlesnyc.org to learn more). Guest columnist Kami Rice is a freelance writer living in Nashville,Tenn.
Anger & Art, Gravity & Grace On a painfully cold night in February five years ago, I walked quickly to the subway station from my brownstone apartment in Harlem. I remember that night because it marked the end of the Amadou Diallo case, the infamous atrocity where four white plain-clothed police officers shot 19 bullets into an unarmed African immigrant in the Bronx. The stunning verdict I had just heard on the television chilled every bone in my body that night: not guilty. Since reading John Perkins’ books on incarnational living 15 years earlier, I had left behind my white suburban existence and made homes in predominately African-American urban neighborhoods: Denver’s Five Points community, West Jackson in Mississippi, then Harlem. I’d always felt welcomed, cared for, and blessed in these neighborhoods, but that night, after four NewYork City cops were
acquitted of murdering an innocent West African man, I felt frightfully conspicuous. And I felt shame—deep, white shame that made me cry out like the psalmist, “Oh, God, oh God, what wretched scum we are.” Ironically, that same evening I was on my way to meet an African-American friend who had invited me to view the work of a first-generation immigrant’s son: a Japanese painter who had begun what he called the International Arts Movement (I-AM). One of his exhibits was opening in SoHo and he’d be giving a talk on his work. Once I’d heard the verdict, though, I confess I wasn’t exactly motivated to attend. On that particular evening I did not want art—I wanted justice. When I arrived, however, the brilliant images of colors and crosses, painted in the traditional Japanese art form known as Nihonga, began to dismantle some of the anger and shame I’d carried in with me. And when I heard this gentle artist speak of his attempt to capture the grace of God in his paintings—right there in a New York gallery—my heart was both steadied and lifted. His words and his creativity reminded me of God’s profound justice in Jesus Christ and the diverse forms which reflect it. Many who see the works of Makoto Fujimura (www.makotofujimura.com) or read his essays on art or listen to him speak on faith are similarly stirred to think beyond the normal canvas of “pictures” to the grander image and grander story of Christ himself. In Mako, we find art rooted in Christian faith and in a daring blend of abstract expressionism and indigenous tradition. He is a painter whose works yield international acclaim, who leads a ministry movement for artists (www.iamny.org), and who actually supports his wife and three children through his art as they make their home in New York City.All of what he does challenges conven-
tional assumptions about art, beauty, and urban living. Since that night, I have watched Mako’s influence grow, inspiring many unbelievers to explore the claims of Christ and giving permission to many believers to explore the wonders of art. He does so because he is part of a community of creative comrades that points toward the kingdom of God, and he is astutely aware of the need for both. “My work constitutes one of many voices calling for change,” says Mako, “and I am increasingly hopeful as I observe evidence that we are all in a larger process of re-examining ourselves.” His process is worth noting. In 1992, he was the youngest artist ever to have had a piece acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. His recent work,“Gravity and Grace,” a collection of paintings formed of carefully stoneground minerals (including azurite, malachite, and cinnabar), has been showcased at the Bellas Artes Gallery in Santa Fe, N. Mex. Other works can be seen at Dillon Gallery in Oyster Bay, N.Y., as well as Kristen Frederickson Contemporary Art in New York City and in public collections that include the Saint Louis Museum and the Time Warner/AOL/CNN building in Hong Kong. Shortly after September 11th, he gathered artists in Lower Manhattan for temporary exhibit space (www.tribeca temporary.com), and in 2003 he was appointed to the National Council on the Arts, a six-year presidential appointment. And though I marvel at his achievements, talents, and service, I still think of Mako in the context of that icy February night, when art went beyond a soothing, cathartic experience for me and became an authentic, life-changing ministry. That is the power of art—it transforms us, turning our paralyzing anger at injustice into redemptive morsels Continued on page 37.
ner of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.After weeks of controversy, much of it taking place behind the scenes, Mayor Koldenhoven vetoed the city council’s decision to purchase the church.The council could not muster a large enough counter-vote to override the veto, so the mayor’s decision stood. The controversy was never really about the town’s need for a recreation center, but about fear of Arab Muslims by a large number of town residents. Mayor Koldenhoven said he made his decision because of his commitment to protect the Constitution’s First Amendment and because Jesus said to love your neighbor. Among the mayor’s supporters was Michael VanderWeele, professor at Trinity Christian College, who could not fathom how town residents—many of them members of the town’s more than 21 churches—could condone racism or religious discrimination. This story of fear and courage, of hatred and love, in Palos Heights in 2000 is just one of many stories about Middle America—the American homeland— told in Homeland (Seven Stories Press, 2004), by journalist Dale Maharidge with photographs by Michael Williamson. It is a book well worth reading. The stories the book tells illuminate American life today, divided as it is along several fault lines. Maharidge traveled the
country, stopping in small towns and rural areas off the beaten path, inquiring into remarkable incidents and the heartdeep concerns of different kinds of Americans. What he found was two distinct Americas, one in places like Silicon Valley and Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the other in small, often poor, hard-up towns. In the story about Muslims seeking entrance to Palos Heights he concluded that the tension was not so much racial as it was religious, with roots going back as far as the medieval Christian crusades. For many Americans, the United States is a Christian country, and the entrance of too many Muslims would mean its demise. Regardless of what President Bush or any other president does to build a Homeland Security department, many Americans in heartland and elsewhere will feel “homeland insecurity” as long as the Muslim population is growing. But is America the kind of country that should privilege Christians and secularists over Muslims? Or should we try to build an open society that rejects religious discrimination? Koldenhoven and VanderWeele believe that Christians are called to do the latter, but it takes work and listening to one another.And that is difficult to do in times of deep need when people are losing jobs and feeling abandoned.
One of Williamson’s photos shows the abandoned Homestead steel works in Rankin, Penn.Tough, hardworking men who once made steel there helped build America and also helped to defend it by working overtime during World War II.Today other countries produce steel at lower cost; jobs have moved elsewhere; and whole towns have lost their vitality.The old spirit of the steel works survives, however, in those who produced the bumper sticker that Williamson photographed on a truck in Phoenix, Ariz. It said,“God, Guns, and Guts Made America: Let’s Keep All Three.” Is there another way to think about God and America’s future than in terms of guns and guts? Or perhaps we should ask, is there a better way to think about protecting the freedom of citizens who have the courage (guts) to honor God and to serve their civic neighbors today? Koldenhoven showed guts in the decision he made.Where will we take our stand in the months and years ahead on the issues that now divide America? ★
Postcards From the Road continued from page 26.
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Ron Sider continued from page 40.
by Micah, finds its counterpart in Jesus’ Big Three (again in the form of a prosecutor’s accusation, in Matthew 23:23): “You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” May we not be found negligent, but “let justice roll down” in all of life: my life, your life, the life of the church, and in our world. ■
that feed our souls and keep us moving. Considering the darkness our cities continue to endure, I can’t help but long for more artists like Mako, for more beauty that points us upward, and for more encounters with I AM. ■
Dr. James Skillen is president of the Center for Public Justice (www.cpjustice.org). In addition to editing the Center’s quarterly Public Justice Report (from which this column was adapted), he is the author of In Pursuit of Justice: Christian-Democratic Explorations (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).
Most important, pray that the evangelical world will not only endorse but actually implement this declaration. One-quarter of all U.S. voters are evangelicals. Think of the impact if half of them started lobbying and voting on the basis of this “biblically balanced agenda.” Just a dream? Some dreams come Jo Kadlecek writes frequently on urban life and the arts. Her first novel, The Sound of true. Join me in praying that this hope My Voice, will be published this spring by becomes reality. ■ WaterBrook/Randomhouse. PRISM 2005
A Season to Sing Every year in early November, my friends (I’ll call them Joe and Marie) get ready for Christmas.They pull out boxes of last year’s ornaments, wrap shiny silver garland up the staircase of their old house, dangle colored lights in the windows, and hike up in the mountains to chop down their own tree. Even before they sit down to Thanksgiving turkey, they’re thinking about Christmas. “I love everything about this season!” Marie says. She remembers Advent celebrations as a child, baking cookies with her mother and listening to her father read the story from Luke’s Gospel.When she became a mom herself, she tried to create equally meaningful memories that her children could hold on to as they grew up, despite the competition of holiday consumerism.To this day, Christmas at Joe and Marie’s means carols playing on the stereo, cinnamon candles burning, lights blinking on the tree, red flannel blankets, and mugs of warming eggnog.
And why not? Having spent their years caring for urban neighbors in fulltime ministry, Joe and Marie are entitled to some Yuletide joy every November and December. City life can be stressfilled, noisy, and dirty; the season of the Savior refreshes their souls anew, enabling them to carry on through the other 10 months of the year. Somehow they have escaped the numbing effect that the capitalistic exploitation of Christmas has had on so many of us; they simply enjoy celebrating Jesus each winter—with all their senses. But Joe and Marie would be the first to tell you that we don’t have to wait for Christmas to participate fully in the ultimate gift of life.The sensual joys of living in physical bodies on this particular planet—reveling in music, delighting in taste buds, indulging in aromas—are part of the “survival kit” we humans have been given for the journey. We don’t need a holiday to invoke their use. Then again, Christmas is as good a place as any to start.The wonder of the “God-birth” ignites wonder in us to celebrate, to remember the central event of our collective human history and our personal spiritual formation. God chose the beautiful form of a pint-sized human body—one which would feel, smell, taste, hear, and see the world as we do —for one single purpose: to bring his wandering flesh and blood—his kin— home. Yet we cannot forget that it is a delivery lodged between tragedy and horror—the backdrop of his birth being the slaughtering of children and the climax of his life a horrendous public execution.The story does not end there, though. For in his resurrection we see the paradox by which artists have long been captivated: beauty born from immense suffering and suffering unable to survive without the hope of beauty. The astonishing reality of his birth calls us to worship—as it does contemporary magi like Joe and Marie—with PRISM 2004
all of our beings, all of our senses.When we do, the mystery, joy, and freedom produced from worshipping the Creator enable us to survive the terrible suffering of his death—and the suffering which plagues every corner of our planet today. In other words, I think God’s incarnation is a reminder that no matter how horrible the world becomes or how many atrocities human sin brings, the wonder of the God-child still entices us. He draws us through the darkness to enjoy the glistening eyes of love born in a barn, cared for by an earthly stepfather and young mother, reminding us of our privilege in his kingdom as both caretakers and beauty-makers for a world riddled with tragedy. No wonder Joe and Marie start singing in November. ■
Postcard from Prague “It is a town between towns, whose past is greater than its present, but even that is still quite remarkable…” —Franz Kafka, Fragments from Notebooks and Loose Sheets Dear Friends, The lilacs are in full bloom, bright purple and white blossoms exploding on every street corner, pouring over miles of cobblestone paths. It is an exquisite time of year to come to Prague in the Czech Republic, one of Europe’s loveliest cities and the home of my ancestors. To visit this place is a dream fulfilled. After all, this is the original Bohemia, land of the creatives, home of the first —well—Bohemian artists. It’s not hard to understand why: Everywhere you look is a wonder. Music still pours from the soaring silhouettes of cathedrals built six and seven centuries ago. Encircled by green and yellow hills, with the slender
Charles River coursing through the city center, Prague is an artist’s delight, full of elegance and inspiration. Our first day here we went to the top of Prague Castle, a city unto itself built in the 13th century and complete with churches, kings’ palaces, hidden passages, and wide doors intricately crafted. The castle sits on a hill overlooking the red-roof skyline of the city. The tower of Saint Vitus Cathedral in the center of the castle offers an astonishing view of one of the few European cities that survived the devastation of World War II. Beyond Prague’s fairytale charm, in every section of the city, you find traces of a history riddled with suffering: statues of leaders who died in bloody medieval battles,symbols of religious conflicts hanging along the Charles Bridge, monuments to heroes opposing the Nazi occupation,plaques commemorating anticommunist demonstrations. For each of these painful relics, however, is evidence of the Czechs’ unwavering commitment to beauty as a means of survival. I witnessed this devotion firsthand as I bought a watercolor painting of Prague from an artist whose hands looked more like an aged farmer’s than a painter’s. His diminutive landscapes, taped to pieces of cardboard that formed a frame, sold for 259 Czech crowns, the equivalent of about US$8. When I paid him for his work, he told me in broken English,“Now I go home for the day.” Art is who he is and what he does to earn a day’s living. So how can I not be inspired in this Bohemian environment? It is a trip that shows me a new yet familiar respect for aesthetics, one which answers some of my questions about who I am and helps me make sense of my heritage.Like many white Americans, I grew up blending into the dominant culture, a culture that never required anything of me but pas-
sive acceptance. Consequently, I missed the importance of ancestral connection and the impact of generational wisdom that comes through struggle. Prague is showing me anew both the family trait and the Muse. And yet, Prague today is also a Christian’s sorrow. In a country that has been free of communism for only 14 years, today 60 percent of Czech citizens call themselves agnostic, perceiving the many churches and ubiquitous crucifixes as mere remnants of a past no longer relevant in their newly capitalistic culture. In fact, many of the cathedrals are used primarily to entertain tourists like me with concerts or painting exhibits. Few engage active congregations of faith, which makes me think that while much of the beauty in this city—which is Christian in origin—might inspire its people emotionally, it does not necessarily set them on a spiritual path toward our Creator. It is art without acknowledging a Master Artist. It is beauty without meaning, stained glass windows without light. But because of both its loveliness and its emptiness, Prague points me to “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband,” as John writes in Revelation 21. Its splendor reflects for me that of another City, with gates and walls and a river that runs through it. Its striking stone streets lead me to another golden street, one where all people from all heritages are invited for a heavenly stroll. And its lilacs in full bloom remind me of the tree of life, yielding its fruit every month to be enjoyed by anyone who walks by. “And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” It is a vision that gives new meaning to the words, “Having a wonderful time.Wish you were here.” ■
Passion Dreams At the start of this past Lenten season, Jesus Christ walked center stage of U.S. culture. Not merely the object of Christian devotion for the weeks preceding Easter, he was also the star of his own movie as over 4,000 theatres across the country screened The Passion of the Christ, creating a buzz that had everyone in America talking, arguing, and wondering about Jesus. Those who hated the movie wrote scads of opinion columns—some thoughtful, some cynical—while those who loved it put their money where their mouths were, renting out entire theaters for congregations, friends, and neighbors, and securing the film’s place in box-office history. (I find it deliciously ironic that less than 40 years ago, some of these same folks were calling cinema “evil.”) If Mel Gibson had simply wanted to hold a rally about Jesus’ death or preach about the Lord’s Passion from a church pulpit, the country would have
responded with a collective yawn, if they had noticed at all. “There goes another Hollywood star yacking up his beliefs,” they’d say. Or if some face less familiar than Braveheart’s had attempted a similar project about Christ’s Passion, I doubt folks would have thrown so much as a glance. But because it was Mr. Gibson and because he used the creative language of the age—film—to show God on the cross, many unlikely people considered (if only for two hours) the God of history. In a time when people are starving for significance, afraid of militant fundamentalists, and hungry for a hand to guide them through the maze of religious pluralism, traditional evangelical methods of “soul-winning” no longer seem sufficient on their own.Art, however, has always spoken more loudly than an altar call, and if the recent hoopla around The Passion of the Christ shows us anything, it is that story is often more powerful than a three-point sermon, dramatic images more engaging than a four-step plan for salvation.Though, of course, we need both art and the Word. The other thing the movie’s success shows us is that—no revelation here— Christians in this country really do have money and they spend it when they want to. That said, I have to admit that the Passion’s box-office figures made me dreamy. I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen if the same fervor generated by the movie caught fire in other corners of the kingdom, blazing a whole trail of what I’ll call “Passion Dreams.” Here’s what I mean: 1. Imagine if the kind of vigor and cash directed toward the film by Christian grassroots efforts could be channeled into ongoing arts programs in lowincome urban neighborhoods. How many talents might be discovered, hearts mended, or bridges built? 2. What if evangelicals invested as much money in programs like Act One: PRISM 2004
Writing for Hollywood, the prestigious faith-based screenwriting institute, as they spent to rent movie theatres for Gibson’s film? I would bet the price of a New York ticket ($10!) that we’d have a lot more solid Christians making good flicks. (Find out how to give or apply at www.actoneprogram.com.) 3. In lieu of traditional Passion plays, what if churches commissioned aspiring or veteran artists to produce new works on the Passion that affirmed the artists’ gifts, celebrated God’s glory, encouraged the congregation, and influenced the culture for good? What if these same churches provided financial support to employ these artists year round just as they do missionaries sent out from their congregations? 4. What if the millions of dollars spent watching the film were matched in scholarships and endowments for new graduate programs in creative writing, literature, fine arts, or filmmaking at seminaries or Christian universities? There are too few out there now, and none, shamefully, at seminaries. (Find out how to give or endow by visiting the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, www.cccu.org.) 5.And couldn’t everyone reading this column sacrifice the money we’ll spend on our next movie night out to buy instead a good novel (preferably a classic) for someone who can’t afford one, perhaps a prison inmate? Or spend a few more bucks to take someone to the local symphony who’s never been before? Or even more buying costumes or props for a small theater production? Whatever’s left over could be spent on random and creative acts of Christian kindness—something our country sees too little of.We could toss a few dollars in the guitar case of a street performer, write a check to the local dance studio so low-income kids could take classes, or commission a local artist to paint a community mural. Continued on page 33.
less wasn’t reserved for those times when there was a little something left over: It was a portion required by God from each person’s livelihood. In return God promised to bless those who cared for the fatherless—and to curse those who did not. Moreover, as evidenced in the story of Ruth, care of the fatherless went beyond the provision of material goods. It called for an involvement in the lives of the fatherless and their inclusion as members of one’s own family. In his exposition of New Testament Scriptures, Davis shows that God requires no less from us today.“If we are to please Him,” he writes,“we must recover what
has become a lost cause—the fatherless. … It doesn’t mean you have to become a missionary or take a vow of poverty! In some very practical ways, you can participate in the lives of those God is so passionate about and make differences that will last an eternity.” Sponsoring an orphan abroad; inviting and keeping in touch with foreign students at your local university; babysitting or sharing groceries with a single mother on your street; mowing the lawn or running errands for a neighborhood widow, or just inviting her over for a cup of tea: these are the ways we can make a powerful difference in the life of the fatherless.
“Your creative energy could be the very thing that helps him or her keep going and even experience God’s love for the first time,” writes Davis. “Will you plant a seed of hope in lives that have been stripped bare by the misery of this world?” This book brings power and urgency to the saying, “To the world, you may be just one person. But to one person, you might just be the world.”To mean that much to someone is itself blessing enough. ■
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Ron Sider continued from page 36.
internships, and/or witness weekends (see Network 9:35’s free resource, Congregation2Congregation, at www.net work935.org). And the final component? Keep praying. Prayer needs to be more than an occasional activity in worship or meetings. “Pray without ceasing” for future leaders. Last year, while serving a congregation whose pastor was on sabbatical, I helped their staff and leadership brainstorm about potential leaders, developed a prayer list of those names, and encouraged current leaders to look for ways to mentor future leaders in a prayerful way. If your congregation wants to “hit the road,” they must create an efficient leadership-development plan for effective outreach. Let me know how I can be of help as you undertake this exciting process. ■
You get the idea. Not only does each artistic act bring a touch of beauty to an increasingly hard world, but by engaging with those creative folks in their artistic venues, we create new opportunities for friendship and truth. Because whatever we think of the film, it wasn’t that long ago when “The Passion of the Christ” was merely an idea for a movie that required a whole lot of creative planning and financial backing before it could ever be made. And since so many Christians paid to see it, couldn’t we be equally passionate about investing in the lives of artists of faith who show us God’s kingdom from a thousand different perspectives? Shouldn’t God’s extravagant grace in our lives motivate such generosity? Imagine what will happen if it doesn’t. ■
Both Bush and Kerry have a political philosophy that calls for some government taxation and spending to help the poor. But Bush favors huge tax cuts for the rich, and Kerry wants to reduce those tax cuts for the richest in order to have more resources to assist the needy. (My analysis supports Kerry here.) The choices are not easy. I find that in virtually every presidential election, each candidate is better on some issues and worse on others. In my next column, I will try to evaluate the Bush and Kerry platforms in light of what I consider a biblically informed evangelical political philosophy. But no mathematical calculus exists that allows one to reach an easy, certain conclusion. One must think hard, pray hard, and then vote, knowing one may be wrong. Politics remains a messy, uncertain art—even with a good evangelical political philosophy. ■
Pamela Robinson is a freelance writer and college composition instructor living in Mt. Vernon, Ind.
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Inside the Darkness: The Creative Tension of Mental Illness BY BERNIE SHEAHAN
Note: My friend Bernie is unquestionably one of the most creative and inspiring people I know. She also has a mental illness.When I asked her to help us better understand her struggle, she responded with the following. —Jo Kadlecek, regular Art & Soul columnist I’m Bernie Sheahan, writer, historian, and sometime radio host: creative…and mentally ill. There are many categories of mental illness; I’m an expert on just one.The novelist William Styron called it “darkness visible” in his best-selling memoir of the same name; for me, depression is a gray, stoop-shouldered
monster that has stalked me throughout my adult life.Three years ago, my doctor made official what others had long suspected, that I had bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. It’s right up there with schizophrenia in the “severe mental illness” category, but I’m somewhere between Bipolar I and Bipolar II. I may never have “classic” manic episodes (though my house could use a four-day cleaning frenzy), the kind that have a devastating effect on sufferers and their loved ones, especially when the high takes the inevitable tumble. Mine’s more like Tigger’s bounce—more diverting than dangerous. And I’m not alone. Famous bipolar artists include the likes of John Keats, Tennessee Williams, and Georg ia O’Keefe. A connection between creativity and mental illness has long been assumed. Stanford researchers have discovered in the brains of both the highly creative and the mentally ill an inability to filter outside stimuli—but that doesn’t mean mental illness necessarily gives you a creative edge. That would be like saying you have to drink to be a writer. I lived in Oxford, Miss., for two glorious years and I breathed William Faulkner’s air. Literally every day I jogged the Faulkner-toFaulkner route, from his grave near my apartment, past his famed Confederatesoldier monument in the square, to his backyard at Rowan Oak. I gulped the cedar-scented wind and wondered every day why he drank. Poor Mr. Will wrote about sin and pain more profoundly than nearly any American in the 20th century. He suffered crushing depressions. And he medicated himself with bourbon. As Styron wrote,“Faulkner and others drank to broaden their vision, their exaltation or despair, or to flee from the pure agony of creation.” But I know another reason why Faulkner drank. I thought about it when I stood at his grave or when I sat in St. PRISM 2004
Peter’s Episcopal Church, where he was a member. In all his profundity, in mining the depth of Old Testament justice and mercy within the Southern psyche, Faulkner never learned to appropriate that mercy for himself. I imagine him experiencing only judgment—and at his own hands. C.S.Lewis,one of his fellow Anglicans (albeit a more devout one) wrote this: “Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: Ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago.” (This is taped to my laptop.) The difference between the two writers is that while Lewis found life in the ink, Faulkner found despair.As a writer, enlivened by grace, Lewis was healed through the work (see his book Surprised By Joy for details). I, too, know that the work of writing helps heal. So do loving relationships, long walks, and good medications (I’m on four). I’m thankful for all of these things, which, when I take life one day at a time, allow me not only to read the Psalmist’s words but to know what he’s talking about; to marvel at the firmament rather than get stuck to its ceiling; to acknowledge the bottom of the miry pit without wallowing in it, sucking black mud into my lungs. Living somewhere between the extremes is a good thing—and a lot less scary for those who love me. Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” Those of us who are in the arts, either as creators or appreciators, experience life and its abundance on many levels, and give thanks for subtleties that others may not notice. It’s our privilege to awaken the world to beauty through what we create and appreciate with others, to reveal the Light and expose the darkness. In some of us, the darkness is painfully visible.As artists, this is both our burden and our gift. As an artist with a mental illness and a deep faith in Christ, I live daily within this tension. ■
A Legacy Restored In the 1952 original film version of Alan Paton’s classic, Cry the Beloved Country, a young Sidney Poitier plays a city priest who helps an older rural priest find his wayward son in Johannesburg. Considering how entrenched the South African apartheid government was at the time, the film is a brave and prophetic confrontation of black and white issues, required viewing for anyone committed to racial reconciliation. But there is another reason the film is significant.The actor playing opposite Poitier was not only one of America’s most popular black actors at the time— comparable in name recognition to Denzel Washington today—he was also a tireless civil-rights activist in the United States, long before the Montgomery bus strike catapulted the movement. The actor was Canada Lee. Canada Who? Most of us probably haven’t read his name in our history texts or come across his legacy in any social commentaries.
Probably because by the time Cry the Beloved Country opened in New York in January 1952, Lee’s popularity had already been threatened. He’d been labeled a communist for his advocacy of racial justice, denied work in the film and theater industry as a result, and even had his passport confiscated by U.S. authorities. In what was surely a great twist of irony given the film’s message, Lee died on May 9, 1952, at the age of 45 only four months after Cry the Beloved Country premiered.The cause? Stress-related heart problems. He was literally a casualty of the McCarthy era, condemned for using his clout as an actor to speak out for the rights of his people. It is troubling that Lee’s contributions hardly exist in our collective memory, that he is another artist and activist who fell into obscurity because of the idolatry of nationalism. During this era of similar political tensions, Lee’s life—and death —is particularly instructive and relevant. But if not for the work of another theater artist, Lee’s story might have remained lost in the shameful pages of McCarthyism. Instead, a contemporary playwright in New York is bringing the actor to life again in one of the most creative and engaging pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time. In fact, the story behind the story reminds me that the most powerful forms of political confrontation often happen at the intersection of art and justice. Mona Z. Smith, a 40-something white woman from Winnetoon, Neb., (population 62), first stumbled across a footnote on Lee while researching for a new play set in the 1940s. Because she had studied playwriting at New York’s Columbia University and worked as both an investigative journalist in Miami and a theater activist in Europe, she couldn’t help but wonder why she’d not heard of Lee before.The omission troubled her and she began digging. The inquiry took her on an eightyear journey into archives, corresponPRISM 2004
dence, and interviews. Eventually, Smith pieced together the details of Lee’s story and wrote Becoming Something: Canada Lee, a two-act play that follows the challenges and changes in his life. Her research was so thorough that she also landed a book contract with Faber and Faber to write the first biography on Lee —scheduled for release this fall. She used the advance money to help stage the first production of her play, which opened on the 50th anniversary of Lee’s death, May 9, 2002, in Greenwich Village and ran to packed houses for three weeks. How a contemporary white woman from Nebraska remained so committed to telling the story of a forgotten black actor from Harlem both intrigues and inspires me. It moves me to pray that an equal tenacity for justice might motivate my own creative efforts while at the same time encouraging others to tell the stories of those who have slipped into obscurity. It isn’t hard to see that those of us concerned about biblical issues like these—racial equity, personal dignity, artistic beauty—ought also to be supporting such work. And we can. Smith hopes Lee’s legacy will be restored as regional and college theaters stage productions of Becoming Something: Canada Lee.A one-hour video documentary of her historic play, entitled Discovering Canada Lee, is currently under production, and Smith is in the process of scheduling a speaking tour to coincide with the release of her book in the fall, all of which will help the Canada Lee Scholarship Fund for young artists of color. For more information on booking Smith for a lecture/reading or on producing Becoming Something, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For documentary information, contact email@example.com.And, of course, to learn more about Canada Lee’s acting contributions, check out Cry the Beloved Country, Body and Soul, or Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. ■
The Magic (and Ministry) of a Good Story On a tame Saturday afternoon, tired from the week and still bogged down by my “to-do” list, I got caught on the couch with a good novel: The Secret Lives of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, a contemporary Southern story of racial tension, family pain, and empowered/empowering women. As a writer, I was certainly absorbed by the story of a young white girl fleeing her downright mean daddy and finding the solace of family with four black women. But Kidd’s care with language did as much for my tuckered soul as any three-point sermon—maybe more. Well-crafted stories have long been a balm for the human spirit. Children through the ages have gone to bed with a fairy tale in their hands—and heads. Young people have sailed the world in books and imagined a thousand different
dreams through hardback adventures. Adults have always taken time to rest from the burdens of real life to hear or read a good story. As Elie Wiesel said, “God made man because he loves stories.” We can’t survive a day without the gift of story. Whether it’s a compelling novel, a child’s account of her day at school, a memory of someone lost, or a parable of God’s intervention, stories reinforce for us lessons we learned long ago and inspire us to take another step forward.They help us gauge reality and yank us back from our self-important lives.They offer us pain and then compassion, joy and then encouragement. In today’s Christian circles we even have a name for them: testimonies. Christians, of course, have always been people of story, joined together by a remarkable historic event that possesses all the elements of epic adventure, romance, and the ultimate battle between good and evil—all wrapped up into one life-changing story. In fact, Frederick Buechner calls the gospel story a tragedy, a comedy, and a fairy tale, because it includes the despairing news of sin, the outrageous truth of God’s love, and the supernatural ability to create a happy ending from both. So if story is the obvious center around which we share our corporate life as God’s people, if it is the springboard from which we launch our evangelistic efforts and the anchor that grounds our faith, why then, I wonder, do we (in Christendom) invest so little in the art of storytelling? Though we feel rightly compelled to train social workers and missionaries, pastors and teachers, I know of no master’s degree in creative writing offered at a seminary or Christ-centered university. Nor have I heard of any Sunday-school curricula that gives a biblical basis for storytelling or any workshops at urban ministry conferences on how to better communicate your story. Storytelling—along with its counPRISM 2004
terpart, listening—is an organic and crucial part of being human. But it is also a skill that is not only worth developing but worth offering in service as well. Just as every counselor needs advanced listening skills to be effective, so, too, Christians need the skills—and art—to share a good story. Sadly, though, a stroll down the aisles of Christian bookstores today for the most part reveals books that are either exclusive (Christianese for the Christian ghetto), dogmatic (I have all the answers, so listen to me) or really bad fiction (“But on this warm summer night the roaming, cotton-candied masses were out to enjoy, enjoy, enjoy”). How lonely and incomplete many of our lives would be without C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, or Walter Wangerin’s urban tales. How many of us would be living in cities without John Perkins’ autobiography or Robert Lupton’s kingdom stories? Stories like these define us. How, then, can we affirm the next generation of storytellers, those —like Lewis and O’Connor—who will care as much about their medium as they do their message? Maybe in the long run, I’m just trying to convince the hardworking kingdom builders who read this that Saturday couch-times with good novels can be as productive, energizing, and stimulating as a good sermon or a good deed, and certainly as important in communicating the hope of Jesus Christ to broken souls. As the story goes, when Tolkien was accused of writing escapism in his The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he replied,“Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison walls?” ■ Guest columnist Mitali Perkins is a freelance writer and the author of two novels for young people (www.mitaliperkins.com).
Art & Soul Articles from 2004-2010